The 6 Year Old Professor


In A Rush?

  • Family centered care = families know their children best
  • I learn loads when I stop talking and just listen
  • There’s more to residency than Grey’s Anatomy … go figure, I also live in Seattle

Granted, I usually say

“You know…Grey’s Anatomy…”

when I try to explain the concept of residency to those outside the healthcare field. This is a terrible set up strategy.  Those TV residents seem to spend all their time tangling through love webs and miss a small aspect of residency – the patients.

My residency training is not as glamorous yet we learn more than textbook diagnosis and discuss this esoteric phrase, “family-centered care.” I sound like I’m pandering but in all honesty, learning about the individual behind disease represents a very sweet and real side of what we do every day.

Enter Sarah: a 6 year old girl that came into my life summer 2014.  She was transferred across Washington State to Harborview Medical Center to be treated for an arterial aneurysm and redefined everything for me.

Her case brought along a unique challenge – She could not verbally communicate. Instead we relied on other physiologic cues to direct our care: temperature, heart rate, shivering, and her breathing patterns.

Sounds like medically savvy technique right? Well sure as long as one doesn’t wind up seeing patients as a set of numbers, lab values, and disease processes, which can be hard at times.

This is the vital role of families.  To teach us about the fun-loving, behind the scenes, character.

During a conference, Sarah’s parents shared their wishes about her medical care and, towards the end, they made a candid request:

“Do you mind if we decorate her room?”

Within a few hours, the breathing tubes, IV lines, and monitors were sharing real estate with photos of Sarah playing in a park, laughing, photos of her siblings, lists of her hobbies, and other daily reminders of her – of only her.

The new atmosphere provided a solid platform to learn about the real Sarah.

I heard hilarious stories from her mom and soon she began comparing Sarah’s quirks with mine.

Examples: our excess energy, imagination, and tendency to be scatterbrained. Above all, I learned that Sarah was highly mature for her age, exceptionally social and adaptive. I felt like we had known Sarah for years.

Sadly, within a few short weeks, I switched rotations (Yes, just like Gray’s Anatomy) and had to steer the emotions into well wishes and a heartfelt goodbye. It was a difficult transition for me but part of the growing pains.

Fast forward a few weeks, I was in the intensive care unit at Seattle Children’s hospital and heard we were taking a transfer from Harborview – none other than Sarah.  Pretty awesome coincidence.

I’m not that superstitious but –

– I looked up her medical record number and learned another fun fact: we have the same birthday, March 5th.

Her mother’s intuition about our similarities is backed by astrology. Pisces unite.

What’s My Point?

This little 6 year old taught me just about as much as any professor.


Top Photo -> Me handing Sarah her favorite teddy bear. Photo credit to this talented gal -> www.emilyrasinski.com

10 pillars of Family-Centered Care -> http://www.seattlechildrens.org/patients-families/partnering-with-us/family-centered-care/