I will be meeting a new jail patient with multiple medical problems today in my clinic. I know this much before I even meet him: He will almost certainly be scared, especially if this is the first time he has ever been to jail. He will likely be suspicious of me. He may even be downright hostile. I know this because this is the norm for correctional medicine. I can’t be an effective doctor unless I can turn this attitude around.
Consider the situation from my patient’s perspective. Prior to seeing me, he was arrested, handcuffed and driven to jail in a police car. Once at the jail, he was thoroughly searched (spread-eagle against the wall), fingerprinted and had his “mug shot” taken. His clothes were taken away and he was given old jail clothes (including used underwear). He was placed in a concrete cell. Now he is summoned by a correctional deputy and told (not asked) to go to the medical clinic.
He did not choose me to be his doctor. Though he doesn’t know anything about me, he has no choice but to see me for his medical care. Not only did he did not choose me; he cannot fire me or see anyone else. He may fear that I am not a competent doctor; otherwise why would I be practicing in a jail?
This is the attitude that I have to overcome. How to do this is an essential skill for correctional practitioners. And, of course, the single most important encounter is the first one. A negative first impression is hard to overcome–and I am already starting out at a disadvantage. What I have to do in only a few minutes is convince my patient that I am a legitimate medical doctor and that I care about him. I have learned in many years of doing this that these things are essential:Continue reading