It's Not You, It's Me: Learning to Navigate the Patient-Physician Relationship

Ann Fam Med. 2021 May-Jun;19(3):271-273. doi: 10.1370/afm.2644.


In this essay, a medical student details how she struggled to let go of a patient with whom she connected throughout the patient's pregnancy during her second year of medical school. Although she learned in her preclinical "doctoring" courses how to build quick connections with patients, such training did not delve into how to manage meaningful, emotionally complex connections that may form with patients during longitudinal rotations or, as in this case, extracurricular activities. While primary care physicians may have decades of practice managing evolving longitudinal relationships, medical students who form strong connections with patients are just learning what it means to navigate those relationships, some of which come to an end. Reflecting on the end of this particular relationship helped the author appreciate the power of the longitudinal physician-patient relationship and taught her that taking care of patients also requires taking care of one's self.

Keywords: communication; empathy; medical school; narration; narrative medicine / trends; personal narratives; personal narratives as topic; physician-patient relations; therapeutic alliance.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Narration
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians*
  • Pregnancy
  • Students, Medical*