When the PA becomes the patient

A physician assistant’s stay in the hospital provides a new perspective of a patient's experience in the emergency department.
A physician assistant’s stay in the hospital provides a new perspective of a patient's experience in the emergency department.

As healthcare providers, it is often said that we make the worst patients. While I try to avoid being the patient as much as possible, I was forced into this position last week. After a freak accident, I found myself admitted to the hospital. Thankfully, my inpatient stay was brief. I cannot say enough about the wonderful hospital staff that made my stay as enjoyable as a hospital visit can be. In addition, my hospital stay gave me continual reminders of the importance of maintaining compassion in health care.

As soon as I donned the ever-so-glamorous hospital gown, I was immediately reminded of the importance of making sure patients feel comfortable so that they do not feel as though they are being put on display. Extra blankets to cover my legs when I was transported to tests in a wheelchair made me feel much less exposed. An extra gown to cover my back when I walked to the restroom made it much less humiliating. Because of my experience, I am making a dedicated effort to ensure my patients stay covered while they are in the emergency department.

 

I was also reminded of another important aspect of health care during my stay—always keeping the patient up to date about what they are waiting for, where they are going, and why they are undergoing certain tests. While it is slightly different in an inpatient setting vs the emergency department, the same concepts do apply. Talking to the patient and letting them know that there is a plan that includes goals and expectations can appease a lot of anxiety about being in the hospital. Personally, even though I had a good sense of what was going on, knowing the plan during my stay gave me something to focus on and prevented me from going stir-crazy.   

Finally, I was reminded of the importance of continually updating my orders. I was initially made NPO during my stay and was left with ice chips and mouth swabs. This order was left in place throughout the night and through part of the next morning. Now that I can speak from experience, I can honestly tell you that lemon-flavored mouth swabs do absolutely nothing to quench your thirst.

Thankfully, I had the most compassionate nurses and they went above and beyond to find the admitting doctor to get the orders switched as soon as possible. Finally being able to eat again was almost as exciting as getting my discharge orders. I am definitely going to make sure that I update orders such as diet status as soon as I can, because this will make a big difference to the patient.

Staying in the hospital was not what I would have planned for myself, but it did serve as a good reminder to keep in mind what the patients are going through. I will continue to try to put myself in the mindset of the patient to see what I can do to make their stay a little better.

Jillian Knowles, MMS, PA-C is an emergency medicine physician assistant in the Philadelphia area.  

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