Bedside manner

Kayla Simms is a Psychiatry Resident (R1) at McMaster University who graduated from medical school at the University of Ottawa in 2017


Compartmentalization is to medical knowledge as bread is to butter: patients, divided into sub-types; the body, separated by systems; the physician, detached from the pain.

Or so I once thought.

In medical school, I walked into patients’ rooms and stood idly at the bedside, intimately embedding myself into the darkest spaces of strangers’ lives. The bedside, like a carpenter’s work bench, is where I mastered concepts of sound and touch: the absence of bowel sounds auscultated in an obstructed state. The warmth of inflammation against the back of my hand.

The bedside is where I grew accustomed to asking questions like, “How is your pain today?” and learned to de-humanize the experience with the help of a 10-point scale.

But near the end of my medical training, I crossed the bedside’s cold metal barrier.

In the post-operative care unit, as the pain resurfaced beneath the weight of the anesthetics, I found myself unable to quantify the knife-like shooting in my left side to a single number. I pressed call buttons at ungodly hours of the night, requesting bedpans and begging nurses to adjust my pillows. White-coated strangers with tired eyes entered my shared room, examining the surgical incision scantily located beneath my most personal of garments.

It was here – accepting the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear that came with donning a patient gown – where I understood that the bedside was not a unilateral experience.

In rediscovering medicine, I sought to reconstruct my bedside dynamic to unlearn what I had compartmentalized. I reached across arbitrary barriers to touch hands with strangers and to hold, in my palms, the emotions unmeasurable by a 10-point scale.

Now six months into residency, with the humbled acceptance of a new identity, I know the patient experience taught me more about being a doctor than any lecture, textbook, or case history ever could.

Embracing shared humanity with empathy and without judgment is, after all, what “bedside manner” is truly about.

One thought on “Bedside manner

  1. Sanjeev Bhatla

    As Kayla so eloquently expresses, human suffering and pain cannot be measured on a point scale. A "visceral" appreciation of our patient's experience is the essence of authentic empathy and connection. Thank-you Kayla, for sharing your insights and personal growth.


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