Making Rounds: Listening to the Patient

I walked out of the faux clinic room where I had just completed another day’s work as a Standardized Patient, assisting in the training and evaluation of medical students at the University of California San Francisco. It was 2003, and I was new to this work and its world.

sklaroff_fusterI was still gowned up when Bernie, my boss, asked me if I was available to stay another hour and be a demonstration body for a small class. I was introduced to the Professor, an old man with a cane and substantial limp. The room was small and crowded with a dozen medical students. The doctor spent the next hour demonstrating how to do a heart examination with just your own faculties and one stethoscope.

The students listened quietly, no remarks, no questions. It seemed as if they were listening politely—uninterested in, if not annoyed with what the teacher was teaching. In any case, I learned something. There is a significant amount of information about a patient’s heart to be had when you are fully trained, educated, and have that stethoscope. My response to his class was simple: amazement.

I doubted that this brief class with this astounding information made a difference to this particular group of students. The doctor’s voice betrayed frustration, and an embittered tone—as if he knew this demonstration was a hopeless cause, teaching this low-tech medicine to high-tech babies. I felt like a prop in a play about a strong character confronting an irrevocably altered world which has no interest in his antique medicine. Experiencing the play from the inside, I, too, felt that sense of hopelessness.

The Professor has moved on, and if I could speak with him I would say, ‘All is not lost! There are two acclaimed cardiologists teaching your kind of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York! I know because I just saw this documentary…’

‘This documentary’ is Muffie Meyer’s Making Rounds which follows Drs. Valentin Fuster and Herschel Sklaroff as they go on rounds at Mount Sinai Heart teaching residents to listen to their patients, learn about their lives, and learn, for example, about the 100 possible diseases that may be indicated simply by looking at their hands—and countless other low-tech examinations that can improve or even save lives.

Meyer follows the two cardiologist’s-version of Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi over a month of rounds, following a few patients over that time, sharing their knowledge and experience with young doctors who are eager to learn.

A career filmmaker, Meyer’s impressive filmography includes a co-director credit on the Maysels’ classic Grey Gardens, and assistant editor of Michael Wadleigh’s groundbreaking Woodstock.

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