Remember that day on surgery you stepped into the OR for the first time? How you had no idea you were supposed to pull your own gloves for the scrub nurse from the supplies cabinet, or that you needed to stand an arm’s length away from the equipment table to avoid breaking sterility? Remember how scared you felt? How clumsy you were when you scrubbed in, in a too-large gown that you had grabbed because you didn’t know where the smaller ones were? How embarrassed you were when your nose started itching after you scrubbed in but you couldn’t itch it through your mask because that would make you un-sterile and so you had to ask the circulator in the room - a stranger who you’d never met but who you were sure already hated you for being such a newb - to fix your mask for you?
And then, remember how that one resident reassured you, told you that everyone’s first time in the OR is like that, and that you actually did a great job? That your hands were steadier that many other medical students’ hands? And that maybe you could even be an amazing surgeon one day?
Or how about that call day on pediatrics when you had woken up at 4:30 AM, been at the hospital since 6 AM, and were still at the hospital at 10:30 PM, during a tough week filled with heart-wrenching cases? You were worried about driving home that night. You felt the exhaustion throughout your body - both emotional and physical. Remember how you had that one resident who, without you saying anything, noticed the toll the week had taken on you? Who offered you her bed in the call room and insisted you take a nap before you drove, just to make sure you wouldn’t get in an accident on your way home?
And lastly, let’s not forget that time on neurology, when you attempted your very first lumbar puncture. You inserted the needle once and hit bone. Your mind began swelling with anxiety, but you stayed composed. You inserted the needle a second time, and the patient flinched in pain. At this point, your confidence was totally shot, and your heart was racing. But remember that resident who, very gently and calmly, helped you reposition and try one last time, and that third time, your needle went exactly where it was supposed to go, and your resident – without mentioning the two failed attempts even once – congratulated you on your first successful LP?
Dear Future Self, please remember how these residents went out of their way to walk in your shoes, reassure you when it was your first time doing something new, look out for you when you felt burned out, and highlight your successes and not your failures. Remember all this, and pay it forward, for a medical student who, like you were, might be nervous, tired, or overwhelmed.
Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.
Hamsika Chandrasekar is a third-year student at Stanford’s medical school. She has an interest in medical education and pediatrics.
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