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Thou shalt not doubt oneself in front of the patient

Written by Salma Aslam · Friday 31st January 2014

As part as my paediatrics attachment, I was having peripheral nervous system bed side teaching. We had spoken over the examination and I was first up to practice on 4 year old Jake. One consultant and 3 other medical students looked on as I worked my way through the examination.

My general inspection and impression of the child got approving nods from my colleagues. Phew! Next up was actual exam “two people can’t resist…” I recalled in my head.

First up, tone. I assessed this correctly and nothing had gone majorly wrong yet. Relief. Power was next.

“ok, so put out your arms up like this and resist me…ok, no, not like that..erm..oh god…I don’t know how to explain it”.

My colleagues looked on.

The consultant chipped in “tell him to touch his shoulders”.

It did the trick and I was able to get through the rest of the examination without too many hiccups.

When we had finished, in classic med school fashion I had to reflect on what had just happened and then say something I did good and something I could have done better.

My good thing was “I got through it..I mean I remembered everything”. My bad thing was “I wasn’t good at explaining power to him”.

My feedback wasn’t the same as my bad thing though. My feedback was “be more confident. You did everything correctly and didn't forget anything. I think it’s a girl thing. You doubt yourselves more than the boys”.

Next up was a male medical student’s turn. He did the examination just fine but there were things that I could pick out that he could have done better and being totally objective my examination was better. But there was a major difference. His confidence.

He seemed like he knew what he was doing and when he went wrong or missed something out, he just added it to the end of his examination. If I were his examiner, I would have found it difficult to fault him.

He appeared confident and as a patient that inspires confidence and a happy patient makes for a happy examiner and good marks.

After the session, I got to thinking: am I really incompetent or am I just underestimating my own ability which is making me lack confidence?

The fact that a paediatric consultant and all my colleagues told me that my examination was fine, good even, answers the first part. I am not incompetent. So I must be underestimating my own ability. And if I am, is that something that is unique to me? Or are other medical students doing that too? And more interestingly to me, is this something that the female medical students are doing more than their male colleagues?