A fellow student recently equated being a medical school student with bumpy downhill skiing. You rocket down a hill and you jump, making some of the jumps, and missing many others. However, you can’t look back because you’ll fly into a tree. Of all the descriptions of being a first-year medical student, this is my favorite. Unfortunately, at the time all I could think about is how I hate downhill skiing. It terrifies me. Is hurtling down a hill on thin strips of metal to be considered fun? So, how do I, and all of us, get through this experience, and do it together, without flying into a tree?
On paper, the idea of throwing 125 people of different ages and backgrounds and strong personalities into a single building for at least 8, sometimes 15, stressful hours a day could cause concern. In our osteopathic program, there is also a lot of hands on teaching, literally, involving almost total strangers handling parts of your body for which you would usually hit them. In addition, my school takes its gross anatomy program very seriously, ranking one of the most difficult nationally. The entire body is covered in great detail in 11 weeks, starting on
Day 2. None of us had ever expected medical school to be easy, but few of us were prepared for the absolute the tidal wave of change that has fallen upon us. We often speak of the past as our previous life, and our previous self. And, it’s only been 7 weeks.
Much of my day is inappropriate for regular dinner conversation, I often have a new formaldehyde smell, and I know I’m not the only person who dreams, disturbingly, about anatomy. So, how do we hold on to our perspective and purpose in the midst of sometimes crazy professors, the whirlwind of work, and our constant need to shower?
In the summer my husband and I both worked at his mother’s inn up the coast. The week before school started a family friend, Dr. M, whom I had only met twice, came for dinner but wanted to speak to me first. He told me the story of a doctor who was his patient for 20 years before dying of congestive heart failure about 5 years ago. Dr. M affectionately called him “Toots,” and over the years they had developed a very close relationship. His passing was a distinct loss. Right after Toots died, his son came to Dr. M saying his father had left him something. It was a black medical bag, and Dr. M wanted me to have it. Now, I was someone he barely knew, and the bag was clearly a sentimental object. He said that Toots would have wanted it to go the next generation of physicians. And then there were some tears from both of us.
I think this event was a reflection of how a being a new medical student is more than just going to school to learn how to do something. We all came here for the pursuit of a specific kind of meaning in our lives. And, as far as gathering all kinds of Type A people, I am very fortunate. Of course, some people drive me crazy, but I have met many amazing, selfless people, both similar and diverse, that I couldn’t do this without.
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