How Badges Are Like Buttered Toast

In my past shadowing experience, I had the privilege of observing and interacting with many residents at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, about an hour and a half from my home town in the Sierra Nevada foothills. As an eager pre-med, I was always thrilled to have the opportunity to spend part of my day with these physicians, but there was one thing that I sometimes wondered about.

It had to do with badges.

I noticed that sometimes the badges worn by these busy health care professionals would be flipped around, showing information such as emergency phone numbers instead of the wearer’s name and photograph. Now, I recognized that this wasn’t on purpose—badges can certainly flip around by accident—but as a conscientious pre-med, I often wondered why the residents weren’t more careful to promptly turn the badges back around. If I were wearing a badge…

And then, just last week, I received my first badge. It’s the size of a credit card, a white rectangle of plastic that is tangible proof of so many hopes and dreams. After waiting at the Photo ID Office in the basement of the Stanford Hospital and hoping that my picture would turn out, I received my badge. (The pressure is on when no photo retakes are allowed, the resulting picture will represent your professional identity for the next four or more years, and you didn’t realize you would be getting your picture taken that day in the first place.) My photograph (which thankfully did turn out) is a postage-stamp-sized image at the upper right corner of the badge. The Stanford School of Medicine title and logo fill the upper left, and beneath that, in bold capital letters, are the phrases “Student Affairs,” “Medical Student,” and my name.  Oh, to be called a medical student!

I proudly purchased a retractable badge holder at the med school bookstore, snapped it on, and began wearing my badge throughout all medically-related parts of my day. (Though I admit that on the first day, I even wore it while stopping by the front desk of my housing office.) And that is when I began to notice a curious thing:

Badges flip around.

It’s almost uncanny how readily this happens—a few brisk steps forward, and suddenly the badge at my hip is announcing the numbers to emergency hotlines rather than my name. I tried adjusting its position on my belt and reversed the clip to see if it was some quirk of the holder, but my badge remains as predictable as buttered toast: it always lands facedown.

Now, when I’m walking around the Stanford campus or hospital, I must regularly check whether I need to flip my badge around. Sometimes, I forget. And in all of this, I’ve come to realize just what the residents I shadowed were experiencing. In this small way, I’ve begun walking in their shoes…or at least in their badges.

My badge struggles over the past week have drawn my thoughts to the topic of empathy. I know that it is important to place myself in another’s position before I draw conclusions. By imagining how I would feel in their situation, I can respond more appropriately and be a better friend, family member, classmate, and future physician. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, however, because it takes a conscious effort to slow down and to pause long enough to place myself in another’s position. It takes time.

Time. It is the most precious resource we have to share, for love and empathy and passion are all revealed through the time that we take to give it. Time is the breath that we take before drawing conclusions and the seconds shared in a touch or a hug. It is the minutes and hours given to listening, to learning, to realizing that each moment of contact with a fellow person is an opportunity to touch a life.

I now realize that the badge-bearers I watched with eager eyes a year ago weren’t being unmindful when they wore their badges flipped around. I had imagined the day when I would wear my own badge, but I now wish that I had also imagined what it would be like for these busy residents and team members to have to monitor not just vital signs and patient comfort, but also badges.

I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out a way to keep my badge straight, so I might have to glance down at it every so often for the rest of my career. But now that I think of it, that might be a good thing.

Because every time I see those emergency hotline numbers instead of my name, I can be reminded to place myself in the next person’s shoes.

2 thoughts on “How Badges Are Like Buttered Toast

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