I was rounding on the inpatient general medicine teaching service last weekend and offered to meet my team of students and residents in the “resident library” on Saturday morning. (Although it holds the name “library,” there were no books or periodicals to be seen.) I had not been in the library for many months and was struck by a few things as I entered.
It is a dimly lit space, lined on three of the four walls with rickety desks and desktop computers all facing the walls. The walls are painted an off-white color with innumerable dings and nicks, presumably accumulated over the course of years. There was a string of garland in the shape of a Christmas tree pinned to the wall (P.S. It is March), the entire left side of which was sagging and misshapen. There were various tattered and coffee-stained papers scattered haphazardly throughout the room, including what appeared to be progress notes and test results printed from the EHR; a few worn ECGs; a telemetry strip; even a few (REALLY old, no doubt) chest x-ray films. Lining the fourth wall was a large foldable table, topped with crumbs and food scraps, a half-eaten chocolate Bundt cake, and scattered napkins and utensils, some of which appeared to be used. The one exterior-facing wall had a row of windows with crinkled blinds, some completely closed, others opened at awkward angles and seemingly stuck in place. There was a cadre of chairs in the room, none matching, all in various stages of disrepair, with one completely missing an armrest and another tucked in the corner, probably needing the addition of a handwritten sign “BRokEn.”
This library is a place where the students, interns, and residents go for a bit of a safe haven. They can take their coats off, sit down, have their own computer space, answer pages, and complain about their woes. They can bounce questions off each other, vent frustrations, find the humor in a situation, and just be themselves. So,But what struck me about their sanctuary is that it is totally and utterly depressing. And it was as if they didn’t even notice the chaos and filth laying everywhere around them. I find it impossible to believe that it does not have an effect on their mood and outlook. Although we are all social animals, and we have a real need to congregate and connect with one another, is this really the best environment to do that?
Dr. Scheurer is a clinical hospitalist and the medical director of quality and safety at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
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