It is a muggy Tuesday evening. Because it is Florida and it is summer, the impending storm promises no relief from the sticky heaviness that infuses the air. A line winds through the parking lot of a nondescript building. Children play under tents that offer paltry shade to their exhausted parents as they give their names to the students manning the reception table.
Seeing this dialog box, which pops up on the hospital’s electronic health record program, is never a surprise. On the list of patients whose charts I’m supposed to review for my summer research project, the deceased ones are highlighted in grey, setting them apart from the otherwise black-and-white list of names and medical record numbers.
I am doing flashcards almost rhythmically, rocking my chair and thoughts to the lilting cadence. It’s early, and my fingers are curled around a steaming coffee. I move forward through the deck, slotting each pearl of information into my brain as best I can, until one prompt jolts me from my focused state.
I was on a plane heading towards Santiago, the capital of the Dominican Republic. From there, I would take a two-hour bus ride to Mao Vallerde, where we would be working at for most of the week. I was going on a global health trip through Jose’s Hands, an organization that sponsors medical students interested in going on mission trips. For this particular trip, they had partnered with One to the Other Ministries, a Tulsa-based ministry that has been doing mission trips, both medical and non-medical, since 1986. This being my first global health trip, I had no idea what to expect other than the usual warnings of tropical diseases endemic to the area.
On your mat, you struggle to lie on a bent leg, intensifying your stretch as your hip pleads for you to give up. Many yoga instructors describe hip-openers as a “dynamic” pose because the body is in a constant flux between comfort and discomfort. But there is a moment when your internal struggle abruptly ends.
After passing out, I began to have doubts about my true level of squeamishness. So when it came time to go into the anatomy lab for the first time as a first-year medical student, I was nervous that I would be “that person” — the person who passes out the first time she walks into lab.
About eight months into my first year of medical school, an incoming student asked me how to prepare for the upcoming journey. I could relate to the panicked, excited feeling of the duty to prepare for medical school after an intense visit day. Yet, instead of defaulting to my ingrained answer of, “Nothing can prepare you for medical school,” which I believe was not in the student’s interest to hear, I carefully considered her question and answered, “It’s very important to be a good listener.”
My first year of medical school is finally over…and it was rough. Then again, that is not too surprising. After all, it is medical school, so no one is expecting a walk in the park. During my first year, a lot of the advice and wisdom I heard from other medical students seemed to match up pretty well. However, there were definitely a few things I heard that I felt did not quite hold true. While this is only my opinion and it may vary from student to student, here are my top five biggest misconceptions about medical school.
It’s okay that you forgot who I am. My name is David, and I was the student doctor that made the orthotic you wore on your leg for a year. Do you remember where we were when we met?
Whenever I hear the word “burnout,” I’m reminded of the ugly, oh-so-dark side of being a medical student, the side that hides in the shadows, away from the prestige and privilege that comes with the noble profession. Maybe it seems like I’m exaggerating; I mean, it’s just me jumping to conclusions when I associate the feelings of being overworked with the days where I can’t seem to find the bright side of anything, right?
“This is a place where the dead are pleased to help the living.”
These words always greet me upon entering our anatomy lab. A similar saying in Latin is inscribed at the Palazzo del Bo at the University of Padua, home of the world’s oldest anatomical theater.
I have always toyed with the idea that I may have depression. Numerous times I have looked over the various depression diagnoses and their criteria. But then I settle on the idea that my thoughts and emotions and struggle are not severe enough. Everyone experiences sadness. Everyone experiences grief.