Don’t worry, medical students don’t judge

Everybody gets nervous at the doctor’s office. Physicians ask all sorts of personal questions about what people eat, how much they drink, and how things are at home. Even questions that would seem completely harmless in another context — such as how work is going, or what hobbies a person enjoys — seem surrounded by hidden meaning and purpose. After all, who doesn’t want to “pass” their annual checkup?

Part of this feeling is surely a product of the medical culture, where the paradigm of clinical practice is that the history — everything that a patient tells us — is the starting point for every diagnosis and treatment we offer.

As medical students we’re taught in first year that every single question that is asked is done so for a reason and can provide helpful information. Even in popular culture, this is portrayed to an extreme in TV medical dramas such as House, where a random detail of a patient’s personal life often provides the single “breakthrough” clue that suddenly allows the medical team to solve the mystery and save the patient’s life. With all of this, it’s little wonder that patients often feel pressure to present themselves in an idealized way.

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