One of my most memorable experiences of PGY2 year was when one of our very experienced, highly regarded attendings sent out an open invitation for lunch and brainstorming to all psychiatry attendings and residents. The objective of the gathering was to review the past treatment record for a patient with an exceptionally treatment-resistant mental illness and to explore both in and outside of the box ideas for other treatment possibilities that might be helpful. I was amazed and heartened by the event. Throughout my training, it has been repeatedly emphasized to always ask for help when needed and to not hesitate to discuss cases and treatment options with our seniors and attendings if ever there is a question about what is the appropriate next step to take. To see this behavior modelled at the attending level by one who is nationally sought out for advice, advocacy and education drove it home for me that they really do walk-the-walk here with putting our patients’ needs above all else, ego and status included.
Having seen how normal it was for this attending to so openly and candidly ask for feedback and ideas about how best to manage this patient’s illness was liberating for me. The fact that that event was so much of a non-event in everyone’s day drove it home to me that we all will have our share of diagnostic and treatment dilemmas in our careers. Knowing that I will always have access to the doctors, psychologists and support staff of the Meyer service and Phipps residency program is a great source of comfort as I begin to contemplate life after residency. I will be well equipped, well supported and never entirely alone.
Asking for help, advice and feedback is how we continue to grow as psychiatrists. Learning how to feel comfortable seeking out those interactions is as important as some of the basic skills that one expects to learn in residency. This attending demonstrated for me that day that to ask for help in how to provide good care for a patient is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of integrity and commitment to good patient care.
That lunch was productive and fruitful in identifying other treatment options for that patient. It also established for me a standard of excellence regarding personal and professional integrity and humility that will guide me into my future and from which both I and my patients will benefit.