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.
In a little over a month I’ll be finishing my master’s program; 10 days later I start the first rotation of my fourth year. I’ve begun to feel a mix of emotions. Anxiety as I review medical topics, trying to bring them out of distant corners in my memory where (I hope) they still exist. Excitement at the idea of getting back to patient contact, which even through the stress of being a medical student I have never doubted is where I want to be. To psych myself up, I’ve reflected on the clerkships that I’ve completed (read: survived); below are lessons, encounters and unforgettable moments that I’m blessed to have experienced.
Pediatrics: Yes, it was difficult to see kids when they were sick. It was also hard to complete a physical exam on fussy children. The laughter and high-fives made up for both, though. Even patients with chronic illness were inspirational, resilient and great to sit and talk with. What made my peds rotation even better: the wooden heart that a patient decorated for me, thinking that I was her “real doctor.” Win.
Psychiatry: While I completed my rotation in a locked ward, I never felt threatened around the patients. On the contrary, I was surprised by the connections that I formed with them. My takeaway memory:
Me to my wandering schizophrenia patient: “Mr. H, do you know where you are? What day it is?”
Mr. H: “Yes, I do… Why? Are you not oriented yourself, Sir?”
Given how tired I was at the time… likely not. Touché.
Ob/GYN: At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’m proud I can say that I’ve helped bring life into this world. Childbearing and childbirth, in its complexity, is beyond beautiful. Overwhelming? Yes. Amazing? Definitely. I wasn’t able to convince any new mothers to name their children after me, but I was offered a job as a birthing nurse given my awesome coaching skills. We’ll see how med school works out.
Family Medicine: The level of connection between the doctors I worked with and their patients was incredible. Working to address all the patients’ issues in short appointments was trying, and often impossible, but the gratitude of patients was humbling. It was interesting, too, to see the incorporation of complementary medicine – and try it out. Acupuncture? Check.
Surgery: The smell of post-op infections is something I’ll never forget. So is the time a grateful patient stopped me in a hospital corridor to remind me that I placed an NG tube for him (with success). Beyond unforgettable: massaging a patient’s heart through their chest after a thoracotomy. I don’t see myself as a future surgeon, but I respect the skill. Also hard to forget: tying many, many, knots (mostly on strings attached to nothing).
Medicine/Sub-I: The hardest yet most instructive month of my life. The level of responsibility for patients was overwhelming and empowering. I oversaw patients from tears on admission to smiles on discharge. I experienced for the first time the death of a patient along with a deeper connection with his family than I would have thought possible as a student. I don’t miss my pager going off many times, but I do miss that patients asked for me.
Going into clerkships I felt uneasy about being in a position to care for people given that I was still in the process of learning medicine. What I’ve come to realize is that often the medicine I learn in books is best utilized alongside other care we can offer: a conversation, an inviting smile, a genuine concern. I can’t wait to wear my Medical Student badge and white coat again.
Moises Gallegos is a medical student in between his third and fourth year. He’ll be going into emergency medicine, and he’s interested in public-health topics such as health education, health promotion and global health.
Photo box courtesy of Moises Gallegos