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Stanford Medicine

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

Med school friendships from classroom to clinics

Med school friendships from classroom to clinics

SMS (“Stanford Medical School”) Unplugged was recently launched as a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the SMS Unplugged category.

SMS-4-9-14My first two years of medical school – the “pre-clinical,” mostly classroom-based years – were an intensely shared experience with my classmates. At the stethoscope ceremony initiating us into med school, their heartbeats were the first I listened to upon being presented with my stethoscope. A few days later, we all nervously huddled together as our anatomy lab cadavers were undraped for the first time. We drew each other’s blood, percussed each other’s spleens, and ultrasounded each other’s abdomens.

Outside of class, my med school friends remained a constant presence in my life. We volunteered together on weekends to mentor pre-med students, give flu shots, or work in the student-run free clinics. A group of us would meet up for regular games of “Fridayball,” a completely made-up sport that we nonetheless took pretty seriously. I trained for and finished my first half-marathon and triathlon with a few of my classmates, which I never would have done without their encouragement. We went hiking and camping together. We helped each other move, gave each other rides to the airport, and cooked each other comfort food.

Then the pre-clinical years ended, and suddenly our paths diverged. Many of us jumped straight into clinical rotations, where we were scattered across dozens of clinical teams at five different hospitals. The MD-PhD students (my own husband among them) stepped out of the medical curriculum to dedicate the next few years to their research. Others took a year or two to pursue a research project or a second degree. Although I have continued to see my friends pretty regularly to catch up over lunch or coffee, go for a hike, or celebrate a birthday, school no longer brings us together on a daily – or even weekly or monthly – basis.

I miss being constantly surrounded by my friends as part of my daily routine, but I guess I can’t really complain: Most adults don’t get to see their friends at school every day. As it is, I am thankful to have found incredible friends who still go out of their way to be there for me, even now that our schedules don’t easily match up. Like the friend who skipped class to drive me to the doctor when I was sick. Or the friend who answered the phone late at night to help me recover important files I had accidentally deleted from my computer. Or the friend who stops by every month or so just to bring us a giant pretzel from his favorite bakery.

I think I will always have some nostalgia for the natural, easy closeness that came with the first two years of medical school. But maybe the time we spend together now is meaningful precisely because it isn’t as easy to come by.

Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez entered medical school at Stanford in 2010. She was born and raised in Kentucky and went to college at Harvard before heading to the West Coast for medical school. She currently splits her time between clinical rotations, a medical education project in end-of-life care, and caring for her daughter, who was born in 2013.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez

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