Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A seat at the table

Once, as a lowly undergraduate shadowing an attending neurologist, I sat at a table. Not just any table, but the table in the conference room where that morning's patients were going to be discussed before rounds. I did not know that such pre-rounding was going to happen; I just walked into the room with the neurologist, and sat when he sat down.

Not a moment later, a resident walked into the room. The attending was bent over some charts as I watched a parade of long white coats enter the room, then sit around the table. I was given a passing glance, but no one said anything to me.

And in came the medical students in short white coats. They dutifully took seats along the edge of the room, away from the table. A handful of nurses came in. One sat at the last seat in the table, the other two sat with the medical students.

I then realized I had made a grievous error. The table was a place of honor, reserved for the attending, residents and the nurse who was presenting a patient that day. I contemplated moving to the edge of the room, but decided it was probably too late.

The discussion commenced, and I was introduced. The stories of that morning's patients were dissected, treatments were discussed, and several patients were transferred off the floor. Halfway through the second patient, another long white coat came through the door. Turns out it was the chief resident. Oops! He looked at me, and went to the chair in the back.

We proceeded to go on rounds, and I received quite an education on the types of patients that make up an urban neurology service. No one really took me under their wing as had happened in previous shadowing experiences. That didn't quite matter to me, but I always wondered whether the colder reception was because I took a seat at the table.