Awkward. is a witty TV show about the awkwardness of being a teenager and surviving high school. Sometimes I feel like the awkwardness of being a medical student and surviving medical school is worthy of a TV show.
Medical school is particularly awkward when starting third-year clerkships. Depending on how prepared you are for the wards, you may not know where to go, what to do, or what to say. Some students will dive in as if they’ve been working in a hospital for years. The rest of us need a little help in the transition from books to patients.
Your environment will play a major role in how you function on the wards. Depending on your team, they may not notice you or even know your name. Once a new task arises and you volunteer with, “I can do it,” everyone will look up from their papers and finally notice you. After you’ve settled into the team and demonstrated that you’re a hard worker, someone will hopefully take you under their wing and show you the ropes.
I enjoy a clerkship the most when a resident or attending works with me side-by-side. I greatly appreciated when a resident spent an hour helping me with the differential diagnosis and explaining the case we just saw. I felt comfortable when an attending walked me through an entire procedure, from inserting a Foley catheter to closing the incision sites. I was grateful when residents used their break during a 24-hour shift to teach students at an extracurricular event. I like it when residents and attendings ensure that I learn as much as possible when they say, “this case is great for the medical students to learn from.”
When a physician reaches out, I don’t feel misplaced anymore. My role is to learn and assist in patient care as much as I can. These opportunities are not always available, due to time constraints and patient workload and the like, but when they do arise, take it. You won’t feel awkward anymore. But don’t wait until a resident or attending pulls you aside. Make your presence known by helping out and showing that you’re interested. If all else fails, bring your smile (and stethoscope, pen, and notes) and participate.
Don’t wait until residency to give back and end the awkwardness for someone else. Assist a confused colleague. Show a first- or second-year around the ward if they are new to the hospital. Remember that we are all in this together and that we must help each other out. If we all pitch in, medical school will go by smoothly.