Latest Healthcare Blog Post

This is the last post for my Experience.com blog, a blog I co-write with two other students. We each contribute one weekly column.

All I am doing lately is studying, writing papers or working. On May 8th, I will be free, free for the summer! I’ll catch up on email, I’ll begin reading and posting again, I will, on occasion, see the sun. It will be glorious.

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Respect. Professionalism. Ethics.

As actual or budding health care professionals, we owe it to our patients, to our colleagues and to ourselves to treat each and every person we encounter with the highest degree of those three ideals.

I have an instructor who lacks professionalism almost entirely. During a recent tour of the local hospital where he works (and throughout the term,) we were subjected to comments about how the other large hospital in the area “doesn’t care about patient safety,” or simply “sucks.” I happen to volunteer for that other hospital, so perhaps I am biased; however, it strikes as appallingly unprofessional to repeatedly make snarky remarks about the competition when acting as either an educator or as a representative of the hospital for which he works.

 Another example: We toured the pathology lab of his hospital. This is not a pleasant room; it is probably crawling with so many forms of bacteria as to boggle the imagination. It smells of formaldehyde and diseased tissue. Plastic containers full of various removed organs abound, many of which have the lids askew and fluid dripped on the table around them. The walls are a dingy, dirty color that used to be white. There is chicken wire on the window. The whole room presents as a poorly-maintained 1940’s asylum. It is, to be frank, the perfect scene for a horror film.

This just can’t be sanitary. I mean, it’s not as if these things are going to be put back into people, but still. Practicing some level of lab hygiene seems like an all-around good idea, and this guy somehow missed the memo. Seriously: Bleach solution – look into it.

It is, of course, fascinating to see ovaries, tumors, bone scrapings and even miscarried fetuses in their respective jars. We are allowed to look closely, and each of the students in my class behaves him- or herself admirably. We are amazed at the structures our bodies create, and also at how they can go horribly awry.

The next door down is the morgue, and we all walk trepidatiously inside, unsure of what to expect. The room is very old-school, with tile floor and walls from the 1940’s, an old, stainless steel autopsy table, and two full-sized cooling units where bodies would be placed. The coolers are empty, and there are audible sighs of relief. It’s a bit of a creepy room, even for someone like me who isn’t squeamish about dead bodies.

In the room, there is also a traditional-looking, standard-sized refrigerator. Looks harmless enough. Naturally, being that it’s in the morgue, it is not full of snacks and lunches. It is full of specimens. In the top freezer portion are amputated feet, hands and an entire lower leg. The instructor removes the leg, which is wrapped up in a very leg-shaped package and shows us the heft of it. Decorum, exit stage left.

“Who wants to hold the leg,” he almost squeals, offering it to the nearest student. Clearly, this is the high point of the tour for him. There are nervous giggles. She accepts the leg, visibly surprised at how heavy it is, and suddenly, everyone in the room is all about holding the damn leg. The leg that some patient in the hospital is currently quite upset about no longer having.

Here these people are, yukking it up in the morgue with someone’s actual leg, all at the urging of our instructor. Now I get it that the leg is just meat, that we all are just meat, and that the former owner of the leg will never be the poorer off for the students having passed it around like a ham. However, it is the underlying principle I find disturbing; if we’re getting all goofy about this simple thing, this disembodied leg… what does that bode for the future, for the quality of care and for the level of sensitivity these people will provide?

Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it means nothing at all. Sure, I kind of wanted to hold the leg myself, but not amidst a bunch of guffaws and crude jokes. If there had been any air of respect for the fact that this was recently a part of a living human being, that there may have been agony and tears over the decision to part with it, I would have indulged my curiosity about how heavy a leg really is once it’s no longer animated.

Instead, I remained quiet and stepped back a bit from the spectacle. A couple of other students joined me, regarding the scene somberly, with disapproving grimaces.

“For God’s sake,” the instructor said, rolling his eyes and exaggerating his speech, “don’t drop it!” He practically tossed it to the next person.

At some point, I’ll write about something else of import besides respect and being a decent person, but for now, I am fairly alarmed by some of the actions and words I see in various healthcare environments, and all I can do right now is to rail against it in my limited capacity.

In all honesty, I don’t believe it’s intentional on most peoples’ parts; I think they probably get jaded after a period of time, and they might forget the sensitive nature of the business.

But here’s the thing:

It’s not ok to be disrespected while under the care of any health professional, and if you feel you are being treated unfairly or unprofessionally, you need to speak up, either to the offending party, to that person’s supervisor or to an administrator of the facility.

The only way to stop someone’s unprofessional or unethical behavior is to bring it to light. For my part, I should have said something in front of the whole class. I didn’t. Despite the level of disrespect, I didn’t want to embarrass the instructor or the students in front of everyone else. Instead, I chose to handle it quietly, after the fact, and with the instructor himself. If there is a next time, perhaps it will be with his boss at the school.

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