How do you call your next patient? Do you address them by name? I have been in clinics where the means of calling the next patient has been along the lines of, ‘You – go to room so and so’, spoken by the receptionist, or just the shouting of the word, ‘Next!’ by the doctor or nurse through an open door.
Recently I’ve been thinking about a story recorded in the Bible in Genesis 16, verses 1-16. This is a tale familiar to Muslims, Christians and Jews, which tells how Abram (later Abraham) at the behest of his wife Sarai, sleeps with her maidservant Hagar in order to have a son, as Sarai is post-menopausal and they are desperate to have a son to fulfil the promise God has given them. What is significant is that Abram and Sarai in their discussion in the recorded narrative refer to Hagar only as ‘maidservant’, and ‘servant’ (verses 2, 3, 6), not dignifying this person by calling her by her name. So this poor woman who is the victim of an immoral scheme dreamt up by Sarai and colluded with by Abram, and who is an Egyptian (not one of the Israelites) and a slave, is blamed by those who have victimised and manipulated her for their own wrong-doing. Unsurprisingly, in despair she runs away into the desert, to the total unconcern to her ‘owners’. But then the narrative changes key: ‘the angel of the Lord’ (which in that culture and time we can take to mean a personal manifestation of God Himself) finds her and addresses her by name! (v8).
This is extraordinary, for here we have a woman, a non-Jew, a slave, and a runaway (i.e. an outcast, despised, lowest of the low person) being called by her name by God Himself. Think how much that would have meant to her at this point of extreme despair in her life, that God would personally find her and afford her the dignity and respect of addressing her by her name.
Now back to our clinics and patients. How many people like this do we see – people who believe themselves to be outcasts, despised, despairing, perhaps Dalits (untouchables), and how do we treat them? Do we treat them as they have come to expect to be treated by society, or do we surprise them by treating them with dignity and respect, looking at them as equals and calling them by their name? Similarly, we should take the time and trouble to learn the names of students we may be responsible for teaching, and address them by their names also. It is PRIME’s vision that as health care professionals we should act like ‘the angel of the Lord’ in this biblical narrative, calling our patients, whatever their status in society’s eyes, by their name with respect and dignity. Sometimes this in itself can be the beginning of healing for sick and distressed people.
So how will call your next patient or student? Make sure you call them by their name!
Senior PRIME tutor