Overcoming the Noise: How My Experience as a Middle Eastern Female in a Rural VA Hospital Shaped My Understanding of Humanistic Care

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Leading up to my in-patient Internal Medicine (IM) rotation at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital in rural Roseburg, Oregon, I was especially nervous. Not only was in-patient IM my chosen specialty, but I was afraid that older Caucasian veterans would view a female, middle-eastern medical student with skepticism. 

My first day at the VA, I rounded on a delirious patient. As soon as I entered the room I was struck by his physical presence.

He was well over six feet tall with a powerful frame, and he was very clearly agitated. When I introduced myself he started yelling at me. As I extended my stethoscope he pushed my hand away and screamed.

I took a deep breath, looked him in the eye, held his hand and described why the physical exam was important in light of his CT results. To my surprise, his agitation subsided as I talked and he allowed me to examine him. I suddenly realized that he didn’t care about my background or ethnicity; he needed someone to listen to him and help solve, or at least control, his medical issues.

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It was liberating to let go of my stereotypes about how others perceive me and forge patient connections that were unique.

Looking different than my patients in rural Oregon taught me to ignore easy assumptions based on gender, race, or background and, instead, find ways to meet each patient as they were. My experience help to further instill in me the importance of humanism in medicine.

Humanism allows us future providers to take a step back and imagine ourselves in the position of a patient that just received a terrible prognosis or a family member who has received life changing news. Having this knowledge as I approach my profession will undoubtedly help me to better empathize with my patients and their loved ones during difficult times, gain their trust and, in the end, hope for better outcomes. 

Kiana Vakil-Gilani, MPH

Osteopathic Medical Student - 4th Year (OMS IV)

Gold Humanism Honors Society, Sigma Sigma Phi

Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Kiana Vakil-Gilani