Three complete years of taking notes as a pre-med student have led me to a conclusion: my handwriting is terrible. Ever since the first day of my college experience I have learned that few people on planet Earth can read it without cringing. Even my friends have taken notice and refer to it as “doctor’s handwriting,” which I admit I really like to hear. However, I heard a statistic the other day that hit a little too close to home: over 7,000 deaths in the United States are solely because of a doctor’s poor handwriting.
The worst part, I wonder, is how easily the situation could have been avoided. No capable and caring doctor would jeopardize a patient’s health so willingly, and not in the form of a prescription to say the least. Prescriptions are written after a doctor has already decided the form of care they will provide. You do not have to be a good doctor to write a legible prescription, only an attentive one. I question how 7,000 instances happened, and also why it bothers me so much.
Ironically, I found the answer in my lab notebooks while packing them away at the semester’s end. Somewhere between the tinged grid paper and random observations, I noticed slight differences in the quality of my handwriting between labs. A handwriting analyst would suggest that my handwriting as a whole seemed to indicate the kind of day I was having, far prior to even entering lab. Some days – ones where I was more enthused – were a little more legible. Alternatively, my less ambitious days tended to cut more corners at the cost of writing quality.
Cutting corners at the cost of quality is not always so bad. In fact, calculated carelessness has saved me plenty of time. Certainly nobody would have to interpret my lab notes but myself. However, it is the habit of cutting corners that can be detrimental. Not long after you became a student, you probably learned that it is not the big assignments of the semester that lose you the most points, but all the small points added up that make a difference. To my surprise, I am still learning that the small things do not quit adding up as you finish being a PreMed student. In fact, the habits you currently have will be the same habits you have when you accept your license as a doctor, unless changed. You will always be given the choice of doing something thoroughly, or adding it to a rather large pile of small things.
Imagine lining up a series of a doctor’s prescriptions and comparing them just like my lab notes. In a perfect world, the tendency to cut corners found so prevalently in my notes would not be found. However, I wonder how many times we would notice the same trend, and what else we could compare that would reveal much the same. They would reveal a truth of all doctors and PreMeds alike: your greatest work will always be done when you feel your greatest purpose, and it will suffer when you do not. Maybe poor handwriting is not the silent killer after all, but a poor sense of purpose.
The world of medicine is not looking for qualified doctors; it is looking for inspired doctors. It is our duty as PreMeds to reach beyond our means and see dignity even in the most mundane things – the “prescriptions” in our lives. Maybe for you it is writing lab reports, doing worksheets, or shadowing. The key is to always do your best, even with the small things. The end goal is not always just getting into medical school. Instead, it is about being the best PreMed you can possibly be, however that looks for you. If you need a reason for change, I can give you 7,000 small things that turned out to be a little bigger than expected.