“I robbed my first bank when I was nine years old,” said Mr. L in the same matter-of-fact tone he always used when he shared equally shocking self-proclamations. Mr. L was a plump, grey-haired man in his seventies whose hooked wooden cane was never out of arm’s reach. His toothless grin and honeyed southern twang softened his otherwise hardened demeanor.
The HIV clinic was one of my favorite rotations in all of third year. It was often emotional for me. Many uninsured, low-income patients came to the clinic not only for their HIV treatment, but also for comprehensive primary care.
I had been invited to the general surgery journal club. In the sweltering heat of a southern summer, I dressed as crisply as possible because I had no idea what to expect. While I embraced this opportunity, I had only been invited because another medical student had fallen ill.
You tell me you’d like to be an engineer one day. You hesitate after the words “one day,” like you’re reconsidering the phrase. I want to tell you not to, but I can’t find the words.
Asking someone if they want to kill themselves becomes easier every time. The appalling part is how quickly this and other taboo personal questions became a normal part of my routine.
Like an early Sunday morning in New York City or a football stadium the night before a game, it is a hospital on a holiday weekend. This is my first experience of how quickly peace can burst into bedlam in medicine.
I prepared myself to discuss lab results and dietary counseling. But then my eyes stumbled upon the words on my screen that seemed to be staring back at me: ‘Lung cancer, metastatic to the bone.’
Training to become a physician is not only about acquiring knowledge, but also learning to impart that knowledge upon others — most importantly, our patients. But, in this process of knowledge transfer, is it possible that the information we deliver becomes akin merely to the terms and conditions of a software agreement, the obligatory pop-up hastily scrolled through and accepted by the user — in this case, the patient?
The impostor syndrome I experienced was extremely debilitating and, at some point, it handicapped my performance in my rotation. I even doubted the way I walked; I constantly looked at my badge to make sure it said Ana Meza-Rochin and not someone else’s name.
I’ve been asked by medical students in the classes below me about my third year experiences. Every student’s experience is unique, but listed below are the things I’ve discovered along the way that have helped me survive and even enjoy my third year.
Wednesday morning, October 10, 2018. I was standing in an operating room, 2,500 km away from my home and my medical school, trying to recall the five layers of the scalp.
I had not yet guided a ‘goals of care’ discussion. This is the discussion that entails understanding a patient’s wishes regarding end of life care, and it is often in the context of determining what advanced medical interventions the patient might want. That day, my short white coat felt shorter, like it was yelling out to everyone I encountered that I had no idea what I was doing.