Doctor's Orders
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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.