This is my second clinical year of medical school and although it hasn’t been long, I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations with patients. I decided to document a few of them that have come about several times over the last two years!


Patient: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from Perth!”

Patient: “No, no, I meant where are you from?”

Me: “Oh right! I was born in Singapore”

Patient: “But you speak English so well!”

Me: “I was very young when I moved to Aus-“

Patient: “You know, I went to Singapore years ago, lovely place, really enjoyed the food, my wife loved the shopping there, and it was so clean, everyone was very nice to us…”

80% of the time, if I take a pause while taking a history I get asked this question. And anyone who does not look Caucasian has probably been asked this question a thousand times as well. Patients are usually just curious and want to start a conversation. When I’m asked this question, I’ve learnt to just yell “SINGPORE!!” with great enthusiasm and patients usually get really excited and start talking about how they’ve travelled there. Great for rapport building but not so much for getting the actual history from patients.


Patient: “Activated almonds are very good for your heart you know. They don’t teach you this stuff in medical school.”

One of the things I wish medical school had taught me was how to activate an almond. If I activate it, can I deactivate it? Is this the cure for all heart disease? Who knows! There are heaps of interesting health foods and complementary and alternative medicines out there. Politely nodding and moving on from the topic all together is a good technique to use (laughing is not recommended).


Patient: “Are you doing work experience for high school?”

Me: “I’m actually in university studying medicine.”

Patient: “I see! First year?”
Me: “No, final year.”

Patient: “…Oh!”

Me: “Oh…”

I have also been told that I should be in kindergarten. I don’t think that’s a fair comment; personally I reckon I look like I’ve at least just hit puberty. I’m preparing myself for many unfortunate years of looking like a kid who got lost in the hospital and accidentally picked up a stethoscope and is pretending to be a doctor.


Checking Mallampati score or being cheeky? Either way this kid looks older than me.


Patient: “So when you graduate from medicine you’ll be a nurse?”

Me: “A doctor actually!”

Patient: “REALLY?!”

Being a female, I am often mistaken for a nursing student. In all honestly I don’t have any issues with this; nurses are great! This hasn’t happened to many male medical students though… how odd…


Patient: “So how long is the medical degree at your university?”

Me: “It’s five years which is-“

Patient: “And how much does it cost?”

Me: “Oh well, it’s-“

Patient: “Is the course difficult? Is there an exam you need to do to get in? What about the interview? What questions do they ask? My kid is very smart. HELP MY CHILD GET IN!!”

Gotta love overenthusiastic patients who just want their kids to be doctors! When they find out that you’re a medical student, suddenly they’re cured of the illness that brought them into the hospital in the first place and they can only focus on one thing: getting their kid into med school.


Me: “Are you in any pain?”

Me: “Do you have any pain anywhere?”

Patient: “Yes! In my ARSE! You’re a pain in my ARSE!!!”

I can forgive this patient because they had just come out of surgery. The PACU nurse and I had a good chuckle as the patient continued to give us the middle finger and swear at us. We weren’t laughing when the patient tried to rip out the art line though.


Patient: “You won’t miss the vein! I’m very easy to cannulate!”

Studies have shown that this increases cannulation failure rate by at least 110% and increases student anxiety by at least 1000%. Crawling back to the intern to tell them that you failed to cannulate an “easy to cannulate” patient is the worst kind of embarrassment.


Fact: even if you can drive a truck through a massive vein you will still miss.


Patient: “How is your course going?”
Me: “It’s been pretty tough. I’m having a bit of a hard time at the moment.”

Patient: “Don’t worry dear. We all have to start somewhere; even the best doctors start where you are! I think you’ll make an excellent doctor.”

Every now and then you need this kind of encouragement and it’s typically from a little old lady. They’re the best!


Overall, patients are lovely. The majority of them come from a good place and just want to have a chat with someone. If a patient is ever unpleasant to you, grab a 14G cannula from ED and chuck it in but miss (actually maybe don’t do this, you’ll probably get in trouble).


Arielle Tay

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Classic Comical Clinical (years) Conversations: med student-patient conversations
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