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Inside the Exam Room: Witnessing Trauma-Informed Care in Action

Young woman looking seriously at the camera

I scurry to the door of my next patient’s exam room at the university health clinic. The reason for the visit on my schedule lists an 18-year-old patient suffering from a sore throat for two days. I know a strep test needs to be running soon if I don’t want to be even later for the last few patients on my schedule. This is the 8th patient of the day with a sore throat and I catch myself falling into the habitual work of diagnosing and treating a condition rather than focusing on caring for a person. Thankfully, I pause to recenter myself and draw upon the trauma-informed care skills that I have been cultivating. 

These skills include small yet impactful modifications to patient interactions. I start the visit by introducing my name, pronouns, and role while sitting down directly across from the patient instead of rushing into the room and focusing on trying to get the throat swab collected. I also take a moment to express empathy when the patient’s face shows concern that the sore throat might be strep. I see the patient visibly exhale a sigh of exhaustion as she tells me about the repeated episodes of strep throat as a child and how she absolutely hated it when they swabbed her throat. It got to the point of parents and nurses holding her down. I take a moment to acknowledge how scary that must have been and that we would work together to make a plan. We review why a throat swab would be helpful and discuss options on how to help her be as comfortable as possible during the swab. She provides consent for the test and then we collaborate to finalize the plan for her to sit on the elevated exam table to avoid having me towering over like previous collection experiences.  

Taking an extra minute for connection, empathy, and empowerment has transformed the visit. The patient remains concerned about the swab, however, she has a growing sense of autonomy and control in addition to increased trust in our care relationship. I find more joy in the interaction as it focuses on human connection: the whole reason why I went into healthcare. Trauma-informed care provides very basic yet incredibly powerful tools to improve the experience for both the provider and the patient.


This post was written for the Alongside Network. This organization does impactful work to shift the care system related to families who have a child with a life-threatening illness or injury. They utilize a Whole Child, Whole Family approach that integrates mental health support throughout their hospital and recovery experience. I am a proud supporter of this amazing organization.


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