In the playbook of professionalism, / Where is room for the physician who / Reads German poetry to the dying patient / For days and days until her end?
“I know that this is quite upsetting for you, especially since you have been worried about your exam for several weeks.” I took a deep breath and continued hesitantly. I allowed the silence to settle as I racked my brain, trying to remember the SPIKES protocol.
What did your past few months look like? Did your overflowing email inbox, the patient write-up you forgot to turn in, the lagging research project you started summer of your first year and those long nights cramming First Aid come to mind? If so, you’re in the right place.
Not sure? Uncomfortable? The popular advice is it to just “fake it until you make it.” Since starting medical school, I have heard students repeat the phrase frequently as a way to grapple with novel and occasionally unsettling situations, as well as the extensive amount of knowledge we are expected to rapidly acquire and apply.
In November, I hated medicine. The gray clouds that watched from the sky followed me day after day — to my car, into the hospital, to my car again, and back inside my home. At times the haze was tolerable; an inconvenience, a bother, but no real trouble. Other times, it was suffocating.
When I enter the examining room, Mr. Jones is visibly distressed. His chest heaves as he struggles to catch his breath. I glance at his charts and make note of his chief complaint: chest pain. After a brief introduction, I fire off a barrage of well-rehearsed questions: When did the chest pain first begin? Does it radiate outwards or stay localized in one spot? Is there anything that makes the pain better or worse?
As a fourth-year medical student, I enjoy introducing myself to patients as the “extra eyes and ears of the team, so feel free to tell me anything you forgot or would like to address, even if you think it’s irrelevant or burdensome. I will be your advocate.” As I establish rapport with them, the walls come down, and they often provide important information that helps my team provide the best care for them.
Being a premedical student is largely about the numbers — your MCAT score, your rank in your graduating college class, whether that subpar performance in organic chemistry will lethally impact your medical school application. If you’re anything like me, your time as a premed was spent encapsulated in a crippling and disorienting world of anxiety. I remember scanning Internet posts to confirm just how underwhelming my application to medical school was in comparison to those of other “more qualified” students. I read of students who had managed to four-oh all their prerequisite classes while achieving a perfect score on the MCAT and maintaining an enviable balance of humility and self-confidence, and I was understandably daunted.
Dr. Gary Shlifer, DO recently completed his residency training in internal medicine at Indiana University in Indianapolis, IN after attending medical school at Midwestern University (AZCOM) in Glendale, AZ. He is currently an Attending Physician in Los Angeles, CA where he grew up and attended UCLA for his undergraduate studies. He is passionate about sharing his experiences from his medical training and giving a voice to young physicians everywhere. Gary is also a regular contributor with Docs of Tomorrow.
Despite its omnipresence, Time seemed to be in reliably short supply throughout the year. I keenly felt its absence: less time to cook and clean. Less time to exercise; less time to date. Less time to read and to write.
I wrote this poem during my first year as a medical student while learning physiology. I was struck by the concept of human growth mechanisms. I found it fascinating that our organs grow and change in size through such concrete cellular mechanisms. Growth is such a universal and fundamental characteristic to living beings, and I wanted to play with both language and form to contrast a scientific explanation of growth to the emotional growth that occurs when we experience pain or suffering.
How we respond to failure says a lot about who we are. In business, failure is often seen as a good thing. World-famous motivation speaker Tony Robbins likes to say, “You’re either winning, or learning.” He replaces the word losing with learning. We learn from our mistakes when we fail. Failing allows us to move forward in life, to grow into something better. Why is failure treated so differently in medicine?