My hands were a bit sweaty; my heart was fluttering. As I was driving , questions and doubts surfaced in my mind. “What if my preceptor is mean?” “What if I put my stethoscope the wrong way?” I had shadowed physicians and worked with patients in hospitals, but this was different.
This was the first day when I would become a part of the medical health professional team and would utilize the physical diagnosis and patient interview skills I had learned in class. This was the moment where I would wear my brand new white coat decorated with all sorts of gadgets: my medical student ID, stethoscope, reflex hammer, pen light and notebook.
I walked into the clinic and talked to the receptionist, who instructed me to wait. Feeling slightly awkward in my crisp white coat, I sat in the crowded waiting area. Instantly, I was greeted with gazes of a mixture of curiosity, intimidation and (maybe) respect, as well as some friendly smiles. Wanting to blend in with the crowd, I secretly wished that I had waited to put on the white coat, which felt strangely foreign to me. Underneath, I was just the same as everyone else in that room, an ordinary person with very little medical knowledge. And yet, the mere piece of fabric has put me in an entirely different position. I felt even more nervous.
I was eventually called in by my preceptor. After seeing two patients with her, I asked if I could take the next patient’s blood pressure. Although I was confident in my skills, I tried to maintain my self-assurance as I attempted at the stubborn sphygmomanometer that would not inflate.
Is it hooked up properly? Yes. Is the knob closed? Maybe. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. Okay, try again. Nope. Maybe use a different one. This is really embarrassing. This is taking a long time. Oh, okay, it’s finally working.
Satisfied with my reading, I proceeded to record the rest of the vital signs: bilateral radial pulses, respiration and temperature. When the physician left the room briefly, I began conversing with the patient about the idiopathic pseudotumor in her brain, as well as her family and career plans. She expressed her frustration that her doctors could not provide a definitive answer to the cause, nor could they agree upon a treatment other than to manage her symptoms. The darker side of medicine she exposed mirrored my observations throughout my clinical experience prior to entering medical school. Nonetheless, the patient was optimistic and showed a great appreciation toward my preceptor at her understanding, honesty and open communication.
A knock on the door, the next patient was ready, with new stories to hear, new people to help, and new diagnoses to learn.
As medical students, we are constantly bombarded with seemingly endless amount of medical and scientific knowledge to digest. We work diligently for the day when we can see and treat patients independently and make a difference. In the process, we learn how to think like doctors and speak in medical jargon. But while being buried by piles of notes and drowned by stress, engaging in various clinical activities reminds us of the purpose of our struggles and hard work during medical school. It is a reminder that we, the students and future physicians, are just as human as everyone else, and need motivation and hard work to succeed.