Doctor's Orders
comments 11

An Apology to Medical Students


Dear medical students, I’m sorry.

You had just finished two years of didactic learning and couldn’t wait to feel like a “real” doctor. You were finally starting your clerkships, that is, finally working with patients and getting deep in the trenches.

You were bright-eyed as you pulled on your pristine short white coat. You got to the hospital at 6:15 a.m., 15 minutes early for the first day of your very first third-year clerkship in OB/GYN. You were so ready. Your medical school colleagues had told you what to expect: you would meet your new team of doctors that you would be joining, helping with the diagnosis of diseases and management of patients. Maybe they’d even let you assist with delivering a baby!

At last, you approached the workroom where you were told to find the residents. You prepared to introduce yourself — this was important because these people would be evaluating you and would be your peers for the next four weeks. You were so nervous because the room seemed so daunting.

“Hi, I’m the medical student!” you said with cheer and a big smile to the room.

Silence. No one bothered to look up from her computer as everyone furiously typed away.

Over the next few weeks, you always acted engaged and excited about all you were witnessing. You always knew all the details about your patients and, when asked “pimp” questions, were always able to answer them. Yet, sometimes everyone would rush out of the room without saying a word to you, and you wouldn’t realize what had happened until someone mentioned that room 230 just delivered. You once asked a great question about pre-eclampsia, but the resident just snapped at you. You were so excited to see your first C-section, but once you made it to the operating room, you felt so clumsy getting on your sterile gown and gloves because no one had time to tell you what you were supposed to do. Or, you would often just sit in silence in the workroom because everyone was too busy to talk to you.

On the last day of your rotation, all the residents rushed to Mrs. Smith’s room — her baby was starting to crown. It was a quick labor due to the fact that it was her third child. The resident ran to the drawer to look for sterile gloves, but there weren’t any. She sighed and realized that there would be no time for that. But then she turned around to find you with an open pack of sterile gloves in her exact size. You had run to grab them outside the room because you overheard another resident mentioning that the gloves needed to be restocked in that room at an earlier delivery.

Dear medical students, I’m sorry there were many moments when you were ignored. I’m sorry sometimes we — the residents — were so stressed out that we forgot to tell you to come with us to the delivery. I’m sorry that there was a really cool congenital lung finding on the CT scan but that I didn’t even bother to call you over when you were just sitting silently, just hoping that someone would acknowledge your existence.

I’m sorry I often came off as mean and snippy. I was just so stressed out by the pressure I was under keeping patients alive that it just came out that way. Add that to a lack of sleep and maybe even a lack of a real meal in five days. Residency is just so long and seems never-ending at times. It was never, ever personal.

Your time on the clerkship gave me the best histories and physical exams. You were always a welcoming ray of sunshine and optimism even if it didn’t feel that way. By the way, Mrs. Smith complimented you because you went back to her room a few hours after the delivery to check on her and see her baby.

I finally saw you in your long white coat the other day. And guess what? You were laughing and walking with someone in a short white coat. You looked over, saw me, and smiled.

Dear medical students, thank you for forgiving me.


Editor’s note: A version of this article was previously published on Student Doctor Network.

Karen Tran-Harding, MD (1 Posts)

Physician Guest Writer

University of Kentucky


Hailing from Orange County, California, this second year radiology resident at the University of Kentucky found love, education, 1.5 residencies, and two corgis in the heart of the bluegrass.


  • *eyeroll*

    Forgive you? Please, you did not have that much of an effect on me. This article is so self serving. If a resident wasn’t willing to teach or acknowledge me, it was noted and I moved on to one that would. Please don’t use being stressed or trying to save patients as an excuse. It does a disservice to residents that actually took the time to at least leave me with one teaching point per day. You didn’t acknowledge us because you didn’t want to, not because you couldn’t.

    • Karen

      Hey there,
      I’m glad certain residents didn’t have an effect on you. And I’m glad you had good residents and teachers along the way.
      Thanks for your response.

  • LoL

    Hey, there are plenty of residents who are great teachers and are nice to their students. Guess what? They are also tired and hungry and trying to save patients. I would never take how I was treated personally, as I usually think it’s more of a personality thing. One day of being snippy, I can understand. But if you need to write a blog post to apologize for how you treated med students, it’s probably more of a deeper thing than just being hungry or sleep-deprived.

    You were a third-year medical student less than five years ago. Surely you should remember what it felt like.

    • Karen

      Hi LoL,
      I agree, lots of residents are wonderful all the time and I really admire them. And again, I did not act like how my essay portrays me all the time. It was supposed to be more of a creative essay not a blog post.
      Anyway, there are truth to your words. I’m no longer an OB/GYN but that’s a different essay on a different site.
      But thanks for your response. I do remember what it feels like a medical student and do to be a better teacher each day.

  • SUP

    “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’m a mean person. I’m sorry that instead of taking ownership of my shitty attitude and changing my ways I blame everything around me.”

    I mean come on, none of those things are excuses for your actions. It takes two seconds to grab a medical student to come to a case, and even less time to not be a mean person. I bet you probably gave them all 5/10s on their evals too, and said some generic comment about them needing to work on putting together a better differential even though you spent no time with them.

    • Karen

      Hi SUP,
      I agree none of that is excuse for those actions. But again, it was a essay with a certain tone. It didn’t mean I acted like that all the time or that other residents did either. And some parts of the essay were things I saw happening around me. But I completely understand why you are responding this way.
      And no, I did not give any of the students bad evals. Believe it or not, I was given a resident teaching award at the end of the year voted on by the medical students.
      Thanks for your response though.

  • M3

    This really just comes off as self-serving rather than apologetic. It’s an after-the-fact apology with no indication of taking further action to cause change. In fact, it actually normalizes the behavior of these residents and gives excuses for it. I’m not going to say it’s easy to be a good teacher, or even to try to be a good teacher while in residency, but I’ve had plenty of residents who were fantastic teachers, and the majority did at least try. The behavior you describe here is not normal, but it was normalized by a particular subset of residents who didn’t seem to think it was their responsibility to make an effort.

    I’ve had residents take the time to pull me over for big cases or teach me to suit up in a trauma bay in the midst of complete chaos, all while not belittling me even when I didn’t know the answer to every pimp question, let alone when I did. However, surely you must know that the attitude is only half of the story. The real crime is the residents who never bother to even get to know the med student well enough to write a halfway decent eval, good or bad. It’s the ultimate slap in the face. You’re working yourself to the bone trying to be prepared every day and stand out in some way, and when you’re not in the hospital you’re knee deep in studying. You’d like to think that work will be acknowledged, even a little bit. However, at the end of it all someone who didn’t even take the time to figure out how to pronounce your name correctly gives you straight “average” evals with a generic comment about improving presenting skills that is copied word for word on every student on the service’s eval. So now the guy or girl dying to go into that specialty who busted their butt the whole rotation is explaining away why they couldn’t excel in that rotation on their interviews, wondering whether or not they can match at the program that will let them continue their academic career, let them stay in the state with their spouse/partner, or just match the specialty of their dreams. And the guy or girl who didn’t know squat the whole rotation and is a likely liability to future patients got away without any idea that they need to improve.

    Given the implications of resident’s actions on medical student education and then again on residency selection, this sort of behavior is really unacceptable. This article really just excuses it and normalizes it without taking any steps to correct it. Forgive me if I’m not quite ready to accept your “apology.”

    • Karen

      Hi M3,
      I agree that the essay did not give an “indication of taking further action to cause change”. I didn’t write about any of that as it would detract from the overall tone of the essay and truthfully, that would be another essay for another day. It was meant to be a creative essay that was not even 100% autobiographical – it’s slightly embellished and even drew from my own time as a medical student and from what I saw medical students going through.
      And I completely understand if you do not accept my apology. Thank you for the passionate response.

  • T 2

    Glad you were able to cope with being a jerk to medical students,

  • Bob

    Go to hell.

  • Why?

    You’re a bad person and you should feel bad