Common Ground Is Key to Patient-Doctor Relationship, Says AUC Scholarship Awardee
First-semester AUC student Stefanie Rulli—a Farmingdale, NY native—believes that great doctors don’t just care for their patients. They care about their patients. It’s an important distinction, and it took a bad patient experience between a physician and Stefanie’s 78-year-old grandmother to really drive that point home.
“My grandmother … is very smart and resourceful, but she struggles a great deal when it comes to doctors,” says Stefanie, a graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton, in her First Generation MD Award essay. “She finds it extremely difficult to talk to physicians and blames herself for being unable to converse on their level.”
Stefanie’s grandmother isn’t a doctor, and she shouldn’t necessarily be expected to understand complex medical terminology. Rather, Stefanie says, it’s up to the physician to translate diagnoses and medical jargon into something relatable to the patient. It’s the doctor’s role to help that patient understand the care they’re being given, to help that patient feel at ease, and to find common ground.
Luckily, Stefanie’s grandmother has since found a primary care doctor who has a defter touch.
“[The new doctor] explains everything to her in layman’s terms,” Stefanie writes. “And then asks her how her garden is doing.”
Bridging the Patient-Provider Gap
Stefanie, a SUNY at Binghamton grad originally from Farmingdale, NY, realizes there’s something of an initial gap between patient and provider—they have different communication styles, different life histories, which can sometimes make it tough to forge a personal connection. One of the keys to a healthy patient-provider relationship, she believes, is bridging that gap.
“There is value in physician-patient relatability,” Stefanie writes. “Conversation is very different when there is a shared history and background—patients are more comfortable discussing why they don’t eat as many nutritional meals as they should, why they look forward to a cold beer after a long hard day, and why sometimes finances hinder medical needs.”
She believes that her family background could help develop that relatability.
Finding Common Ground
Stefanie comes from what she describes as a “lower middle class family, where parents worked too many hours, older siblings were in charge of making mac-and-cheese, and as soon as you turned 15 you found a part-time job.” Her parents, who have passed away, taught Stefanie and her siblings the value of diligence, of hard work, and she owes much of her passion and drive toward her education to them.
“As a teen, I assumed I too would live the lives my parents did, maybe working two jobs, something blue collar, but never a doctor,” she writes. “I am so grateful that I was wrong, and I want my patients to sense my gratitude. They’ll understand that I’m not so different from them and that I’ve experienced a lot of the same struggles they have. That common bond will help us to work together for the common goal of their health.”
In the end, she wants her patients to look at her in the same way her grandmother looks at her new primary care physician, because ultimately, it could lead to better care. And Stefanie’s grandmother is a case in point—her white coat hypertension (a surge in a patient’s blood pressure while at the doctor’s office stemming from anxiety) has dropped since meeting the new doctor.
“First and foremost, I want to take care of their medical needs,” she writes of her prospective patients. “But I also want them to see me as an equal, regardless of our differences.”