Medical student learns life lessons from ob-gyn rotation

Diana Xiaojie ZhouDiana Xiaojie Zhou, University of Washington

I had the privilege of completing my ob-gyn rotation as a third-year medical student with Roger B. Rowles, MD, in Yakima, WA. Dr. Rowles has practiced for decades in an underserved community and has held numerous local and state ob-gyn leadership positions. He is undoubtedly a women’s health advocate to be admired. Moreover, I can attest from personal experience that Dr. Rowles’ contributions to the field include exceptional mentorship of the next generation of physicians and surgeons.

In all honesty, I had little interest in pursuing a career in ob-gyn when I arrived in Yakima. For whatever reason, I had written it off as delivering babies and performing annuals, not realizing it was so much more. With few expectations, I was unaware of the whirlwind experience on which I was about to embark. Dr. Rowles moved to Yakima in 1979 after his residency and over the years built a practice that has a richness only seen with time. I had the pleasure of meeting women that he has seen yearly since they were teenagers and pregnant women that he had delivered as babies.  

From the beginning, his patients surprised me with their kindness and openness toward me. Given the private nature of many ob-gyn conditions, I had expected a fair amount of patients not to want to work with medical students. Ultimately, only a handful over the course of the rotation declined. Instead, they willingly shared with me the excitement of advancing pregnancies, the frustrations of ongoing gynecologic conditions, and the stories of their lives. Over time, I came to suspect that the particular environment of the practice had much to do with how Dr. Rowles treated his patients.  

Watching Dr. Rowles at work was a real life lesson in the basic concepts of patient care that we’re taught in lecture halls during early years of medical school. He greets his patients with a smile and asks them how they are. He gives his undivided attention and listens more than he talks. He is always respectful, even when patients stubbornly make decisions that are irrational from a medical standpoint. And the patients respond beautifully, having been put at ease. Though he may see a dozen patients in an afternoon, each visit feels personal and comprehensive. 

Naturally, Dr. Rowles treats medical students as he does his patients. One of the most important lessons I took away from my time with him is that kindness and compassion never fail. In fact, they may even be powerfully contagious. I, too, began to feel at ease in my patient interactions and as a result came to enjoy them tremendously. For me, the rotation incidentally occurred at a time of personal challenge and working with the patients became a saving grace in a sense. For that time, I could set aside my own troubles and focus on others. Whether it was sharing their joy or commiserating with their hardships, the rewards of making that interpersonal connection went both ways.  

One of the challenges I face at this stage of my training is feeling that I cannot adequately thank the outstanding educators who have truly made a difference in my journey. The fact that I am now seriously considering going into ob-gyn speaks for itself. Many of the invaluable lessons that I learned from Dr. Rowles revolve around seemingly simple concepts in how one human being should treat another. One would be hard-pressed to master these skills in a classroom, and I am extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to learn by example. For this, I am indebted to the great Dr. Roger Rowles.