Passing Out Or Feeling Faint While Shadowing In Medicine

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Earlier today, I received an inquiry from a pre-med student who experienced a very common event during the shadowing process:

Hey Rishi! Hope you are doing well. Anyways, I was watching a resident suture a pretty well sized laceration on the forehead of a baby yesterday..and almost passed out! (Vertigo, blurred vision, hearing loss etc) I was pretty close! Is there anything I should do to prevent this from happening again?

First of all, you’re in good company! I know people who passed out at the sight of blood, the first time they saw their cadaver in medical school, the first time they scrubbed in for surgery, from standing too long during hospital rounds or from seeing childbirth. I myself had several episodes of feeling very faint as a medical student during internal medicine rounds and after standing for 8+ hours during a surgery.

Internal Medicine Team Snacks
Team snacks for internal medicine rounds

Naturally, many people find this to be embarassing and a sign of perceived weakness. This is nonsense! Here are my tips to deal with feeling faint as a pre-med or medical student while working:

  • Stay hydrated (very important throughout the day) and make sure to eat! I always keep a granola bar or Clif Bar in my bag to scarf down before I know I’ll be working for a while.
  • Learn to rock side-to-side periodically when standing for prolonged periods of time. Also stretch your body and get the blood flowing to prevent orthostasis.
  • If you start to feel faint, tremulous, diaphoretic (sweaty), dizzy, nauseated, or experience blurry vision, immediately sit down. Doesn’t matter if this is on the operating room floor or on a chair in a patient’s room. You’ll cause more harm to a patient or yourself if you pass out into the sterile field or directly impact your head against the hard floor on your way down. I promise, NO ONE will fault you for getting out of harm’s way at the first sign of feeling faint.
  • Experience will fix all things. The more you get accustomed to the operating room, the emergency center, the inpatient wards, and the hospital at large… you’ll feel more comfortable with what your job entails.

Again, it’s not a sign of weakness if you listen to your body and take the necessary precautions. People will be much more perturbed if they have to explain why a student passed out into a million dollar microscope or fell face first into the open surgical field. Take care of yourself! 😀

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