Maria is special. It’s hardly possible to imagine that anatomy was her favourite subject on entering Minsk Medical College, back in 2011. students often refer to anatomy as the most complicated subject in terms of cramming: young people even compare it to toothache. Surprisingly, Masha was fond of anatomy. Truly, medicine is impossible without this knowledge but such incredible love seems strange…
I met Nurse Maria while staying at the 2nd Clinical Hospital’s Emergency Surgical Department. My thin veins make it difficult for me to receive a needle, but Masha managed to insert an IV quickly and painlessly. At the time, I imagined that she must be a student, as she looked so young. However, I soon found out that she not only had experience, but aspiration to become a doctor. Masha is among those who are following their vocation.
Masha smiles charmingly and resembles the beautiful heroine in the Russian fairy tale of Morozko (upon which a cartoon and a feature film were based, the latter becoming a Soviet classic). Her voice is sweet and she is always cheerful and attentive — as two patients describe her. On hearing those words, I smiled in agreement. Masha is modest, polite and mischievous when chatting with colleagues but also professionally confident. Looking at her, I feel a strong desire to tell her some warm and encouraging words. Masha answers every question willingly, without hurry or glancing away. Her hands are small but she applies them confidently, easily finding veins with her needle.
Masha joined the Emergency Surgical Department within the distribution scheme, after graduating from the Medical College. During her first year, she chose surgery rather than therapy, having a secret dream of becoming a surgeon. Her current job provides great experience, especially as she is studying under Departmental Head Sergey Alexandrov, and surgeons Vladimir Korik and Norair Melkonyan. All are true experts in her department and Masha praises the nurses and cleaning ladies too.
Masha, tell me how you fell in love with this sphere of work… you know Aristotle said that only talented doctors view anatomical knowledge as being vital.
Of course, I’m pleased to be compared with Aristotle. However, I’ve not heard of this before. It may just be my intuition, as I’m an Aquarius; those born under this star sign are supposed to foresee their future path more clearly. Moreover, they love to help people and dislike routine and monotony [smiling].
Did you choose medicine as your vocation or is this a family profession? It’s never dull in the Emergency Surgical Department.
There aren’t any doctors among my relatives; I’m the first. However, I’ve always dreamt of this profession, never aspiring to become an artiste or a teacher. People often say that they knew they’d enter medicine. I felt it to be my vocation and may have been influenced by the death of my mother when I was 11. After finishing school, I applied to the Medical University’s General Medicine Department but failed to gain a place. I went to college instead for three years. Last year, I made no attempt to enter the Medical University, as I felt fulfilled by my work in emergency surgery.
Do you have plans to apply again?
I’ll try this year. I’m attending preparatory courses at the Medical University. I love my studies.
What has attracted you to the professions of doctor or nurse?
I love to help people and am happy when a patient feels better after talking to me or receiving infusions or injections. It’s great when they begin smiling and trust in me. Trust is vital, as patients are often emotional and can become anxious or frustrated when not feeling their best. They can be suspicious, mistrusting their treatment, or become egocentric. I’m not just putting in an IV but am listening to each patient’s concerns. They often need to share their thoughts, especially when they are elderly. Trust then grows between us.
On entering a ward, what do you tell your patients? How do they greet you? They probably behave variously since some are suffering from pain and others are recuperating. Do you vary your approach?
All are different. Some need sympathy. Others are interested in prescribed injections. Almost all are eager to know what pills they need. Some shrink into themselves but I always do my best to come into a ward smiling. Of course, it’s not a grin. I understand that their pleasure in seeing me is intermixed with a desire for release from pain, via injections and IVs. Those suffering from acute pain are often taken into our Emergency Surgical Department and don’t have much to feel pleased about. I come and say hello, delivering medication and answering questions. If my answer fails to satisfy a patient, I promise to talk again later. It’s important to pay attention to those who’ve shrunk into themselves. Anything can be happening in their mind and I think it’s important to understand them, to ensure easier co-operation. I try never to hurry or be overly cheerful. Meanwhile, I can’t afford for my own mood or fatigue to affect my patients.
Finding an individual approach seems to be the most complicated aspect of your profession…
This is true. Working with people is never simple, as there are undercurrents. On occasion, neither IVs nor injections can help relieve pain, but patients expect miracles from doctors and nurses. Even when we deliver such ‘miracles’ it’s often the case that people accept them as a matter of course. When patients are unreasonable I just stay silent.
Do you ever feel frustrated with patients, wanting to give them a kick?
Sometimes it crosses my mind, but it’s prohibited [smiling]. No one is bad but poor health stops us from showing our best side. We shouldn’t judge someone when they aren’t well, as behaviour can change radically. Some retain their dignity, bravely enduring pain. Some overestimate pain and are capricious, demanding enhanced attention. Everyone has their own threshold for pain, and may faint if they see blood. Few are drama queens. I’m lucky in meeting good people.
In the room for medical procedures
How did your career begin? And has this profession met your expectations, or do you have regrets?
I’ve been with the Emergency Surgical Department for just over two years and felt at home as soon as I arrived. It was such a friendly team, and everything met my expectations. I appreciate it when more experienced colleagues praise me for a job well done and when other nurses’ work is acknowledged.
Did you begin as a treatment nurse?
I was initially a watch nurse and then became a treatment nurse.
Are you pleased when patients thank you?
Of course; they often give us flowers and their smiles, or bestow kind words. I accept these with gratitude. I’m convinced that we shouldn’t expect such gratitude from patients. Interestingly, the less gratitude you expect, the more you receive.
Do you remember giving your first injection or IV? Did you succeed immediately?
Everything was easy — including my first injection and IV. This took place during my college internship, with this hospital’s Purulent Surgical Department.
Have you ever saved anyone’s life?
This is routine in our department. We often need to act promptly to save a person. However, many people are involved in the process: surgeons, nurses and those who give emergency resuscitation.
Have you faced death? What did you feel at that moment?
You need to set aside feelings and concentrate on actions at such times. You have to harden yourself to suffering or you wouldn’t be able to work in medicine. I’d be of less help if I began to panic. I can show sympathy of course. Vladimir Bekhterev said that if a patient doesn’t feel better after chatting with a doctor, then the doctor is failing in their job.
Scientists have proven that doctors have among the most stressful of professions. Scientists at the Harvard Medical School and at Michigan University have been studying doctors’ physical state, to try and understand why so many suffer from depression.
Doctors are under stress, especially surgeons and those involved in resuscitation. Of course, other professions are also stressful. You need to be prepared, finding your own methods of remaining relaxed and taking care of your own health.
Which qualities are needed in a healthcare professional?
You must be calm, patient, responsible, and able to work within a team.
Should modern doctors be ambitious?
Ambition is known to drive forward progress, if you manage to avoid vanity. However, you must combine practice and theory.
What is your favourite film about doctors and why?
‘Doctor House’, as the main character is sometimes grumpy but is a perfect diagnostician, working within a team and teaching others.
♦ The 2nd City Clinical Hospital is the oldest medical treatment facility among those currently operating in Minsk (having opened in 1799). It meets contemporary requirements of high-tech medical assistance, as you can read in Travelling Through Polesie and Belarusian Lands by ethnographer P. M. Shpilevsky.
♦ Its surgical activity has been developing since 1870, although the site has had various periods of closure. In 1977, an emergency surgery department (offering 60 beds) launched at the hospital, which now occupies two modern, interconnected buildings in 25 Engels Street.
♦ At present, the department is headed by Sergey Alexandrov, whose personnel work closely with those of the Military Field Surgery Chair at the Belarusian State Medical University, which is headed by the Medical Service Colonel and Associate Professor, Vladimir Korik.
By Valentina Zhdanovich