Does your doctor see you, or your disease?

At 11 a.m. today, the Daily Circuit will examine the effort some medical schools and clinics are making to transform the traditional third year of study. That’s when students often experience a dehumanizing regimen of rotation and overwork.

A blog post in the New York Times offers one doctor’s observation of the third year’s effect on a colleague:

The third-year schedule of rotating every few weeks among teams of doctors, trainees and real patients had left him gaunt. He showed me a stack of index cards, one for each patient he had been assigned in the last week.

“I got an ‘appy,’ a gallbladder and a breast biopsy,” he said, referring to patients with appendicitis, a gallbladder infection and breast cancer. He pulled out one card highlighted in yellow and smiled. “I also got a Whipple,” he said, referring to a patient with pancreatic cancer who needed that potentially complicated surgery. “That,” he continued without flinching, “was awesome.”

My friend wasn’t the same. The patients had been reduced to their diseases.

Kerri and her guests will discuss a new approach that aims to restructure the third year in a way that allows medical students and their patients to develop lasting relationships — in other words, to help students work on people skills as well as technical skills.

What’s been your experience? Have your doctors tended to treat you as a patient, or as a disease?