Learning the true meaning of bedside manner

Posted on Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Take Pause by Kayla Simms (acrylic on canvas)

Spring 2017 Convocation: Decisive moments

Kayla Simms (MD '17) founded Humanities Education, Artistic Living (H.E.A.L.) in 2014, to help students at uOttawa’s Faculty of Medicine discover, develop and express their creative side. Here, she reflects on the transformative experience of becoming a patient herself while at medical school.

Kayla Simms holding her MD degree

Dr. Kayla Simms with her MD degree at the Faculty of Medicine convocation ceremony on May 19.

As a medical student, I walked into patients’ rooms and stood at the bedside, intimately embedding myself into the darkest spaces of a stranger’s life. I grew accustomed to asking questions like “How is your pain today?” dehumanizing the experience with the help of a 10-point scale.

But during my medical training, I also crossed the bedside’s cold metal barrier several times as a patient. In the post-operative care unit, as the anaesthetic wore off and my pain resurfaced, I found myself unable to quantify in a single number the knife-like shooting in my left side.

I pressed call buttons at ungodly hours, requesting bedpans and begging nurses to adjust my pillows. White-coated strangers with tired eyes entered my shared room to examine the surgical incision located beneath my personal garments.

Until then, I had seen the bedside from the vantage point of the white-coated ones. But now I understood that the fellow human lying in the bed also has a deeply felt emotional reality not captured by the 10-point scale. ​

As I graduate, I am thankful for those experiences. I know of no better way to master empathy than to accept the vulnerability, uncertainty and fear that comes with putting on a patient gown.

My affinity for medicine flourished in the crucible of the patient experience, which taught me more about being a doctor than any case history ever could. Embracing our shared humanity with empathy is, after all, what “bedside manner” is truly about.

Symbiotic by Kayla Simms (acrylic on canvas, detail)


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