Monday, October 27, 2008

Common Things Being Uncommon?

Often in medical school we learn about esoteric things, in order to prepare us for the "once in a lifetime" occurrence when we may see it. The training is important, but sometimes we go too far, to the detriment of more common presentations. Here is an interesting example of things you don't learn in medical school from one ER physician's blog (via KevinMD):

Emergency Medicine is notable as much for its drama as for the pedestrian and mundane things that come through the door. Every time I meet someone new and tell them what I do for a living, I always get the "Is it as exciting as it is on TV?" question, or some variant.

Truth is, of course not. Headaches, abdominal pain, weak & dizzy, etc account for a substantial majority of our cases. In fact, the critical care stuff is generally less than 10% of what we do. Now sure, if I see 16 patients per shift, then yes, I do perform critical care daily. But it turns out that the simplest cases can be the most challenging.

You see, in residency, there's a lot of focus on critical care. I spent months working in the cardiac ICU, the medical ICU, the pediatric ICU, the surgical ICU, the burn ICU, the OR, anesthesia, and on the floors. I could line, intubate, and resuscitate in my sleep (and did, on a few notable occasions). I could recite the Killip classifications for MI and knew the DeBakey versus the Stanford classifications for aortic dissections. So I was well prepared and very comfortable with caring for severely ill and unstable patients, which is an important qualification for the job. Internal medicine also was highly emphasized: complex physiology, the key things not to miss in chest pain, electrolyte management, etc.

All this prepared me very poorly for some of the more mundane elements of my practice in "the real world." Stuff you might call "family medicine," though I don't know if that's the right phrase. For example, I remember the first time I saw a new mother bring in her week-old infant who was vomiting blood. Holy crap but I was scared. I knew all about GI bleeds -- in adults -- and vomiting blood was really bad. I didn't think kids even got GI bleeds. I was wracking my brain over it, wondering if the baby had some sort of vascular malformation in the stomach, and the nurse just stared at me when I told her to put in an IV and draw blood. "Why would you want to do that?" she asked
Keep reading to find out why the nurse questioned the ER doc's actions. You gotta love ER nurses - they've seen everything.

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