UTMB medical student HyoJeong Han won the 2010 John P. McGovern Professionalism Essay Award for her essay “Ethics and Spirituality Part of Student’s Medical Education.” From her essay: I still remember the White Coat Ceremony. While putting on my white coat, I made a promise to myself to be respectful, altruistic and understanding, while acting in the patient’s best interest.”
“Ethics and Spirituality Part of Student’s Medical Education”
By HyoJeong Han
I still remember the White Coat Ceremony. While putting on my white coat, I made a promise to myself to be respectful, altruistic and understanding, while acting in the patient’s best interest. First year of medical school reinforced these beliefs but also taught me medicine is not as simple as I once thought. Physicians need to consider medical ethics when treating patients, establish interprofessional relationships, and embrace spirituality in times of crisis. I was aware of these concepts, yet being aware of these concepts and experiencing them were very different.
I observed interprofessional relationships even before entering medical school. However, I did not realize how important they were until my clinical site visit. During the visit, I observed doctors, physical therapists and nurses working together to treat a patient with cerebral palsy. The doctors were making sure the patient was in good health; the nurses were switching the patient’s body position and changing her diaper; the physical therapists were researching an appropriate cast for her twisted leg. It was amazing to see all of these people, each with specific roles, working together to treat this one patient. From this experience, I learned that working as a team and listening to everyone’s input is not only admirable but necessary to act in the patient’s best interest.
In some situations; however, physicians also have to consider the third party who may be negatively affected from a treatment. An example from ethics discussion was an uninsured patient asking the physician to write her prescription under her husband’s insurance. Initially, I would not have any trouble accepting the patient’s request because it would help her receive necessary treatment. However, my action could have negative consequences towards other patients. I could get caught and the insurance company could place strict rules denying diagnostic testing, depriving other patients of good care. As a result, I learned that my actions always have consequences and I must look at the bigger picture before acting on my principle.
Discussions of spirituality in medical school were unexpected. So when Spirituality Week came, I was curious but also very uncomfortable with talks of praying, death and religion. For me, these topics are very private and I was ready to logoff especially when it came to answering questions such as “Is it OK to pray with your patients?” But I learned from a pediatric case that the topic of spirituality cannot be avoided during difficult situations. Even I would want reassurance and would find comfort if someone prayed with me. Spirituality Week was very helpful because I learned many important lessons from doctors, pastors, and rabbis. I may not feel comfortable praying with patients right now, but because of this activity, I will always consider the patient’s spiritual needs during treatment.
Ethics, interprofessional relationships, spirituality and others contribute to the practice of medicine. Learning and understanding all these concepts are crucial to being a good doctor and to providing the best quality of care. Looking back years from now, I will always remember the White Coat Ceremony, the promise I made, and everything I have gained and learned from Practice of Medicine I.
Editor's note: This is a shorter version of an essay that won the 2010 John P. McGovern Professionalism Essay Award at the University of Texas Medical Branch.