In February 2017, fourth-year medical students of the Gold Humanism Honor Society at the University of Colorado School of Medicine led a project in the University of Colorado Hospital Emergency Department where they distributed cards to patients that read "What Worries You Most?" The question was intentionally open-ended and patients were encouraged to be as honest as possible. After several minutes, students returned to collect the card and discuss its content with the patient. These conversations were detailed, lasting upwards of half an hour - therapeutic for both student and patient.
In the emergency department, where patients are triaged based on their chief complaint, age, sex, and acuity, asking “What Worries You Most?” recaptured the human element that may otherwise be lost in this exceptional environment. The patients’ written responses were eye-opening. Some were most concerned about their condition, their families, or their future. Others struggled with economic hardship, substance use, safety, trust or understanding. In reading these cards we are reminded that the ailments that bring people into the emergency room are often not their main concern.
Ultimately, this project is about humanism in medicine. In an era in which differences seem more apparent than similarities, our hope is that this simple idea may inspire our community to have a conversation about “What Worries You Most?” and take the time to understand each others’ concerns.
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This project was adopted from an activity conceived by The Lown Institute in celebration of their annual Right Care Week. Special acknowledgments to the Medical Student Council for funding the project, Dr. Therese Jones and David Weil of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, and Drs. Lowenstein, McStay, and Combs. Medical students who developed this project include Mimi Chau, James Engeln, Meara Melton, Sonia Khatter, Sarah Axelrath, Vera Staley, Maggie Reinsvold, Kenji Tanabe, Rachel Wojcik, Regina Kwon, and Jackie To.
Just a few of the hundreds of patients' cards