Image Zero Tolerance Stock Images © Laura Dodsworth
Our latest blog is from Caitlin. Caitlin is currently a 4th year medical student at the University of Glasgow. She was formerly the Training and Recruitment Coordinator for Glasgow University Nightline and continues to be passionate about raising awareness surrounding mental health and GBV. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Hi, I’m Caitlin, I’m a 4th year medical student, could I quickly check your name and date of birth?
Great, thanks so much.
Alright, would you mind telling me a wee bit about why you’ve come in today?”
And so, commences a conversation now second nature to many healthcare professionals. Let’s be honest though, what now is effortless used to be awkward. Reflect on your initial studies, where diseases were predominantly unpicked in presentation pictorials and the prospect of patient interactions was simply terrifying. No one was born with the core communication skills needed to navigate our clinical landscape, they were developed through teaching and constant practice.
The importance of these so called ‘soft skills’ further increases during consultations with vulnerable patients, particularly survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Here, the standard history-taking script will not suffice. What may be deemed innocuous, such as asking a patient to lie down, palpating their abdomen or inspecting their mouth, might now prove triggering. How, though, can these patients be identified? How can we best fulfil all survivor’s needs?
The answers lie in education.
Due to its shockingly high global prevalence, it can be guaranteed that all healthcare professionals will encounter GBV survivors. Here, relying on individual clinical intuition and acumen is insufficient in guaranteeing an optimal healthcare experience for GBV survivors. Including GBV in all healthcare professionals training is essential.
The barriers faced when broaching GBV with patients are numerous. As well as being shrouded in societal stigma, there is also the fear that raising this issue with patients could make matters worse or cause offence. If done sensitively, this will not be the case. As GBV rarely spontaneously disclose their assaults, it is healthcare providers responsibility to raise this issue. It is far better to ask an uncomfortable question than let a dangerous situation go unnoticed.
Recognising and querying GBV, however, is only the first hurdle. As the initial reaction a GBV survivor receives can shape their recovery, it is essential healthcare professionals can adequately respond to GBV presentations also. Here, relying on individual clinical intuition is insufficient in guaranteeing an optimal healthcare outcome. A trauma-informed approach, whereby the effect of a survivor’s assaults on all aspects of their life is considered, must be integrated into all healthcare professionals training. Only by understanding all impacts the trauma has on survivors’ lives, can all their needs be addressed and met.
I appreciate, however, that tackling the GBV pandemic is a formidable task. Most clinical consultations are severely time constrained and often patients are only met once. So, start simple: if in doubt, just ask. Ask where that bruise came from. Ask why the patient seems agitated. Ask why they might be flinching to the touch. Ask what you can do to help these survivors best.
So, let me start again.
Hi, I’m a Caitlin, I’m a 4th year medical student, could I quickly check your name and date of birth?
Great, thanks so much.
Before we get started, I was wondering if there was anything, I could do to make you more comfortable during this consultation?”
Here, a single sentence could change a life. A single sentence could let a survivor know their needs are important. A single sentence could open a dialogue to let these survivors know, they no longer need to make this journey alone.