I was swept away in the conversation about life choices, movies, and culture. As I walked out of the room, I was shocked to find out that almost an hour had passed by already. I was at New York Methodist Hospital volunteering as a part of the Congestive Heart Failure Volunteer Intervention Program (CHF-VIP).
This program trains volunteers to teach heart failure (CHF) patients about healthier life choices and prevent re-hospitalization. We visited the patients in the hospital to give them “teachbacks.” During the teachbacks, we covered diet changes, reminders to take prescribed medicine, and ways to survey if symptoms were worsening. Then, if given permission, we gave callbacks every two weeks for six weeks after the patient’s discharge. In the callbacks, we answered patient’s questions, and reminded them about what we talked about in the teachback. We also encouraged them to make an appointment with a cardiologist within two weeks after discharge.
Often times, I would finish these teachbacks in 10 to 15 minutes. I would go in and follow the lesson I had practiced many times teaching, wait for any questions and then leave the room. However, during one of my shifts I ended up speaking to the patient for almost an hour regarding his past failures to change his lifestyle for his health. As I continued talking to him, he seemed encouraged, even motivated to learn more and change. He even quoted from a movie, “We all die, but it’s about how we die.” I was inspired by his response to take these teachbacks as opportunities to look into the window of the patient’s life. I took more time to ask the patient questions and empathize his or her situation. I found the time spent much more rewarding, and experiences confirmed my hopes of becoming a doctor someday.
During a lecture I attended as a part of NYM’s Summer College Intensive Program, an E.D. doctor wisely told us, “All doctors are teachers. In order to be a good doctor, you must be able to teach your patients about the disease, symptoms, and possible solutions.” I did not really see the truth behind her words until I saw how my teachbacks and callbacks affected patients. NYM’s CHF-VIP has taught me and helped me develop one of the most important steps in becoming a good physician: to teach.
Written By: Sharon Pang