On July 27, 2020, I began the first day of orientation week at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG). After over four years of living in Atlanta, the initial 25-minute drive from home to school threw me back to my high school days of having to wake up at six o’clock in the morning. The entire first week was a bit of a blur, and I do not remember much aside from getting my stethoscope and helping draft a class oath.
When the start of M3 year came along, I was ready: ready to put my First Aid book to rest, ready to be involved with patient care, ready to observe physicians in their realm of expertise and ready to find my place in the broad field of medicine. Now, halfway through the twelve months of clerkships, I ask myself, was it all I imagined it would be as an inexperienced first-year student?
I was patiently sitting in the lobby at Quest Diagnostics, waiting for the staff to slowly let people inside in adherence with the new social distancing guidelines. I waited for about ten minutes before a man in his mid-50s called my name and led me into a patient room.
There are many reasons a medical student may struggle on their obstetrics and gynecology rotation. There is an obvious lack of medical knowledge or procedural skills common in all clinical rotations. But, on OB/GYN, it can be especially challenging for male medical students to gain the confidence to feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics and being present for sensitive exams.
We have seen our classmates’ faces, memorized each other’s hometowns and politely chuckled at every “fun fact” introduction despite having heard it countless times. Some of us have admitted to writing down random facts about others as we hear them, hoping to review them later and somehow kindle more profound relationships than the pandemic naturally allows. We virtually contact each other later with a random sentiment trying to relate to someone’s favorite sports team or vacation place.
I had developed a strong friendship with Ms. D during the rotation, and her passing became one of the first confrontations with grief that I encountered as a rising medical student.
As soon as I let the door close quietly behind me, I turned to face the glaring, rude fluorescent lights of the operating room foyer. I felt my pupils constrict against their offensive shine as I ripped down my mask to suck in as much oxygen as my deflated lungs possibly could.
Current evidence suggests that much of human health is influenced more significantly by contextual factors like the social determinants of health than the direct receipt of health care. This relatively new understanding has challenged the notion of “physicianhood” and what it means to improve the health of entire populations and communities. With the influx of issues that the pandemic has brought with it, this new model for being a highly effective physician has become even more important.
Rachelle’s winding journey to medical school is filled with twists and turns, with each fork in the road driving her in a novel direction. At age 20, she worked as a waitress, giving her the opportunity to travel and live in new places along the west coast and abroad. Each city brought a sense of excitement and adventure; each adventure brought her closer to finding her true calling.
His parents attended a parent-teacher conference with the hopes of encouraging his teachers to transfer him to the gifted track. After their inquiry, the principal explained, “It would be better for Chris to be in the remedial track, so he can see people who look like him.” This instance of racism would be the first of many for Chris, whose journey to medical school required him to rise above institutionalized racism and implicit biases.
Failure was never an option for me. // Every time I fail… / I am reminded that I have let my country down.
I have become, in these last six months, a twisty little ouroboros. I eat my tail because it’s all I know, and I savor my pain and confusion. I am always full and always empty and a little twitchy from all the coffee. We are one of the few medical schools in the country to push ahead early with in-person rotations during the pandemic.