​The Handwriting Debac​​le

Good handwriting and a doctor? Yes, we can!​​

It was a sunny Wednesday and my last day of rotation for inpatient​ consults. I was overworked and exhausted. With a caffeinated drink in one hand and a stack of medical charts in the other, I was doing what residents on their last day of residency do best: dreaming of at least 24 hours of uninterrupted sleep.     

It was a routine hectic scene in the ward, consisting of meeting and greeting (aka history taking) of patients followed by thorough physical examinations, being overly cautious not to miss any findings​ that could alter the course of treatment. 

While rewriting notes on one patient, in particular, it occurred to me that I had missed listing her previous medications.

I rushed back to that patient’s bed, grabbed her file, and started jotting down the requisite information. 

While I was doing so, I noticed the patient’s family members staring at me. 

“Maybe they are amazed by my writing ability?” was the first thought that came to mind.  

“Doctor Sahiba, can you even read what you​​​ write?” the patient’s husband asked. 

My pride took a nosedive. 

I paused, glanced at what I had written, and replied sheepishly. “Not really”.

The rest of the day I went through a concerted effort of re-writing notes so they would be legible to me and my colleagues. 

In my opinion, the quintessential art of clinical communication is a well-written medical summary. That may be self-evident. However, to read, one needs to understand what is written, and for that, legible handwriting is vital. Unfortunately, neat handwriting is difficult to find, and much sought after especially when the writer is a doctor. For clinical practice, I keep a simple dictum in mind: if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Hence, legible and succinct medical note-writing is crucial. Equally important is to keep in mind that illegible prescriptions can be disastrous for patients.

At work, doctors prefer to be organized and focused on patient care plans. However, they may tend to forget that thinking faster than their hands can write can have a significant impact on subsequent clinical practice. 

The question posed to me on my last day of residency is still etched in my mind. It made me realize that although I may be meticulous in my clinical work, I needed to give my handwriting the importance it deserved. Either that or the Electronic Medical Record making its quick debut at my hospital, thus making my handwriting entirely defunct. And truth be told, I can’t wait patiently enough for that time, COVID-19 notwithstanding.​

DISCLAIMER: Copyright belongs to the author. This blog cannot be held responsible for events bearing overt resemblance to any actual occurrences. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of CCIT ​or AKU.​​​

About the Author   


Natasha Khalid works as a physician in Pakistan. She has written for various platforms for over a decade. Narrative medicine is of particular interest and has helped her channel inner creativity alongside mentally and physically exhausting medical work.