Back in late March, I was a medical student in D.C. studying for exams. Today, I am a 23-year-old living with my parents again. Despite being in school 5+ hours away, my bedroom in upstate New York has become my new classroom. Being at home has its perks: I get food from my mom again, and I can wear pajamas all day if I wanted to (not that I actually do that). However, there are many things that don’t feel right about being a medical student who has no connection to the medical world right now.
I packed up my new backpack, laptop, notebooks and pens early in the morning. The anxiety was palpable as my housemates and I dressed up to make our best impressions on our first day of medical school. This was unfamiliar territory. I had become so accustomed to my hectic routine as a college student by day and a nurse in the emergency department (ED) by night, but what would life be like as a “professional” student?
The same four walls surround us for hours on end while we try to marry the responsibilities of medical education with those of social distancing. While these new restrictions may at first seem conducive to much desired additional study time, gym closures and social gathering restrictions only deepen the isolation already felt by so many medical students.
This column is for the non-traditionals, like me. We graduated with a goal, worked with a purpose and returned to school with a dream. I left health care for more health care; I switched stethoscopes on my first day of medical school.
On March 17, 2020, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) jointly issued a statement supporting “medical schools in placing, at minimum, a two-week suspension on their medical students’ participation in any activities that involve patient contact.” The joint recommendation leaves thousands of third-year medical students, who will soon enter into their final year of school, contemplating their role in the face of this evolving pandemic.
I never expected to have such a similar experience of being immersed in a new language while remaining in the US exactly five years after my summer in France. But the hospital is truly a world of its own, complete with its own vocabulary.
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.
The night before my white coat ceremony in mid-September, I took a drive around Worcester to clear my head. The windows were down, and I could feel the breeze on my face as my car picked up speed along Route 9.
I tripped into the practice clinic room at 12:05 p.m., cradling my cold coffee and explaining to my preceptor that, despite being a first-year medical student, I did not own a stethoscope yet.
I just finished my two month surgery rotation, and as a third year medical student new to the wards, I had a steep learning curve. One of the things I learned the hard way, causing me to nearly cry during rounds, was how to properly present a patient’s history and physical examination findings.
They asked me how that encounter had gone, and I could feel my cheeks turn bright red. I was embarrassed that I was not able to connect with my patient.
I know that being a third-year medical student is like being a transplanted kidney. One starts the day in one body. School is composed of lecture halls and written exams. However, the world has shifted by the end of the day, and shockingly, one’s old body is not present.