How to say I don’t know: A primer on communication for young physicians

First, say I don’t know. 

Refuse to apologize. Stand your ground. 

Then say I’m sorry

Defend your sanity and your humanity. 

Demand they bow down to the finite 

Boundaries of your knowledge 

And “appreciate” the distinct contours 

Of the discrete, well-circumscribed 

Spot, the lesion on the surface of 

All that is knowable. 

They must tremble in “appreciation” 

Of your humility. 

If they don’t, repeat I don’t know louder. 

Unplug it and plug it back in. 

You will find that unless they understand 

The deepest depths of your soul, 

They will not understand 

Your lack of understanding. 

And their understanding of this is vital 

To your successfully saying I don’t know

Otherwise, you don’t get the point across. 

They won’t know why you don’t know 

How you don’t know 

What you don’t know. 

In which case, you might 

Draw a picture of all the things you know. 

Use white board markers. 

They must be dry erase. 

However the drawing only works if it is 

Not erased for three days in a row. 

The diagrams depict uncertainty 

Delicately balanced in negative space 

Between red scribbles (for vasculature) and  

Scribbles of other colors (for everything else). 

And if they find their eyeglasses 

Among the tangle of bedsheets and wavering sedatives 

Or even if they don’t find those glasses, 

They will finally see what you mean 

When you say I don’t know

Romany Redman, MD completed her residency in combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Utah in 2020. She has a bachelor's degree in Russian Language and Literature and played fiddle in one of the first Siberian Irish pub bands before moving back stateside to study medicine.


Rubor Participation:
2020 Poem, "How to say I don’t know: A primer on communication for young physicians"
2019 Poem, "Magpie Wisdom"