Published by
Stanford Medicine

Category

SMS Unplugged

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

My fifth-year comeback

My fifth-year comeback

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.

gallegos_blog3In 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

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

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

Aloha! Stanford Medicine livin’ it up in Hawaii

Aloha! Stanford Medicine livin’ it up in Hawaii

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

This past February, five fellow Stanford med students and I found out that we had been accepted to present at this year’s Western Group on Educational Affairs (WGEA), an annual meeting focused on topics in medical education. This year’s conference took place March 23-25 (i.e. last week) in – wait for it – HAWAII!!!

As you can imagine, the six of us were pretty excited when we found out, particularly since the conference dates coincided with the end of our Winter Quarter final exams and the start of our spring break. Our excitement grew further when we generously received funding from Stanford to support our trip!

As with many trips these days, ours kicked off with an airport snapchat of me, Victoria (MS1) and Fred (MS1):Photo1

Which was followed by, naturally, another snapchat, upon arrival in the Aloha State:

Photo2

And then finally, by some non-snapchat phone photography – with each photo, just so you know, taken with a background soundtrack of “oohs” and “aahs” and “oh-my-goodness-how-is-this-place-so-beautiful:”

Photo3

Rest assured, we didn’t spend our entire time at the beach (Full disclosure: We did totally consider this option but our upstanding moral compasses rightfully led us away from the beach and back to the conference). There were three days worth of sessions, from students, staff, and faculty not only from schools in the U.S. but also from countries like Canada, Japan, and Thailand.

We came away from the conference with multiple new friends and rich discussions surrounding new initiatives in medical education. Two of my favorite sessions featured a discussion on the imposter syndrome (IP) in medicine, where individuals attribute their success to external factors and not themselves, and a joint presentation and activity on shared physician-patient decision making. In the former, we actually took a survey, the Clance IP Scale, to measure where we stood on the spectrum of IP experiences. (Highly recommend this, super interesting). And in the latter, we role played shared decision-making in pairs. To my pleasant surprise, this role playing didn’t feel unnatural or intimidating, and in fact, it closely mirrored what we learned in our Practice of Medicine (POM) clinical skills class.

Continue Reading »

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

The OMG Factor: Curbing your enthusiasm during clinical rotations

The OMG Factor: Curbing your enthusiasm during clinical rotations

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.

stethoscope on shirt - medium I had never seen my young cousin sit so still. “What did you do?” my aunt wondered, amazed that her hyperactive twelve-year-old had been transfixed for nearly an hour. “Were you two playing video games?”

“Actually we were just talking about some of the things I learned in medical school. He’s really interested,” I told her. Indeed, he hadn’t even touched one of the delicious samosas we were eating. Every time he picked one up, he thought of another question or exclaimed, “OMG. The body can do that?”

He wasn’t the only one getting excited. I had barely been in medical school for a few months, and was being exposed to the wonders of human biology on a daily basis. Whether beautiful or frightening, it was all fascinating – and like my cousin, my classmates and I consumed it with the voracity otherwise reserved for a savory samosa.

At the same time, we learned to comport ourselves appropriately in the presence of patients, to contain our enthusiasm when faced with exotic diseases. First with patient-actors and then hospitalized patients, we learned to treat patients as people instead of diagnoses, and to be empathic even while being enthralled. Upon starting clinical rotations two years later, though, it became increasingly difficult to do so.

On one of my first evenings on call, I was sent to see a patient with appendicitis. “It should be straightforward, a really textbook case,” said the resident. The case was indeed straight out of a textbook, but not from the chapter about the appendix. I found myself staring at a man nearly seven feet tall, with the characteristic hollowed-out chest, spidery fingers and long limbs of – “Yeah, Marfan’s Syndrome runs in the family,” he said. “Every doctor stares when they first see me.”

I tried to never repeat my mistake, but sometimes it’s hard not to stare for at least a moment. In fact, students are often asked to do exactly that as part of the physical exam. Take the physical exam rounds, when a faculty member takes students to see patients with findings appreciable by careful examination. Even when those rounds are lead by the most empathic physicians, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we are not contributing to the patient’s care and do not even know much of their story. Rather, we walk into their room only to palpate a spleen or see a Babinski sign.

Not staring isn’t easier to do even on surgical rotations with less face-to-face patient interaction. During one operation, a neurosurgeon used an endoscope to navigate the deep recesses of the brain. While gazing at the anatomy that even the best textbooks don’t show in such rich detail, I forgot to breathe and nearly passed out.

Continue Reading »

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

Reality Check: When it stopped feeling like just another day in medical school

Reality Check: When it stopped feeling like just another day in medical school

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 many ways, the first year of medical school feels just like undergrad to me: I spend much of each day in basic science classes, regularly meet with my academic advisor, work on problem sets with classmates, and try – as unsuccessfully as I did in college – to maintain a regular work-out schedule.

Hamsika sketch1

Of course, there are aspects to my first year that were not present in my undergrad years. Patient presentations are a familiar component of our classes, with our instructors bringing in a patient and their family, who in turn share their unique stories with us and give us the privilege of asking them questions about their conditions and their care. In addition, we spend two hours every Monday and Friday in the clinical skills component of our Practice of Medicine (POM) course, learning the core components of the patient interview and the physical exam.

Both patient presentations and POM sessions have been the highlights of my first year but neither experience has made me feel like a “real physician.” Yes, I’m drawn into patients’ hopes, struggles, and experiences during patient presentations, but it’s a faculty member with extensive clinical experience, not me, who guides the conversation. In POM, I appreciate the opportunity to practice with standardized patients (SPs) and classmates in a safe environment, but it feels very much like “playing doctor” because – let’s be honest – both the SPs and I know my medical knowledge is pretty limited at this point.

Hamsika sketch2

For some reason, it wasn’t until we learned the genitourinary exam that the reality of becoming a doctor began to sink in for me.

Continue Reading »

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

Defining my own academic and community medicine

Defining my own academic and community medicine

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.

Gallegos sketchWhen I picture my future career, I see myself more as a community physician with a foot in academia than as an academic physician with a habit of finding himself in the community. Working in a county hospital and being involved in community-health programs have always been desired and natural end goals for me.

In college, while fellow pre-meds sought out laboratory research and publication opportunities, I was most content teaching health-education workshops in public high schools. In medical school, while others worked in clinical science labs, I chose to work as a health navigator in a clinic. I value the concept of biomedical research and its contribution to medicine as we understand it, but I feel more at home in community outreach than I do in lab research.

Academic medicine has traditionally been centered on advancing clinical and physical sciences, and knowing this wasn’t an interest of mine, I began to see it as something  perhaps I shouldn’t be a part of. I worried that academic medicine might draw me away from community involvement and, worse yet, I met professionals who felt I should focus on academic medicine or community medicine, unconvinced that I can do both.

But yet, I also enjoyed the innovation, the cutting-edge practices, and the game-changing discoveries that come from academic medical centers. And I came to realize that academic and community medicine actually aren’t mutually exclusive – it’s just that the traditional definitions I have of them imply they are. Unfortunately these were the definitions I brought with me into medicine, a consequence of the misrepresentations that exist at the pre-med level.

It was the advisors, professors, and students who make up the Community Health scholarly concentration at Stanford, through their approach to medicine, that showed me a redefined possibility for academia in community health. Currently, as I work on my Masters of Public Health I’m also looking to redefine the potential roles I can take as a physician. And as medicine and public health continue to embrace a synergistic approach to caring for people, I’ve tried to adapt my view of what being an academic physician can mean. While I may not be meant for research dealing with pathogenesis of disease, biophysical properties of medications, or stem cell innovation, I envision my role in understanding and developing the practical delivery of medicine, studying health-care use patterns, impact of health education, and health-needs assessments on a community level.

Lloyd Minor, MD, recently wrote in his “Letter from the Dean” that, “On an institutional level, we are striving toward excellence in patient care by building a network of care that gets our specialists out into the community and brings high quality physicians from the community into Stanford Medicine.”

Validating my career goals, Dean Minor recognizes that community experience is as essential to complete health-care delivery as academic experience, and that we need to strive to create an exchange of skills and service between the two. Academic inquiry in the community setting is necessary to inform best practices and better serve the target population of health interventions. In turn, community experience is important in the academic setting to better inform policy and directionality of health-care changes to ensure the most vulnerable populations are not forgotten.

I don’t see myself in the traditional academic role, marked by research, publications, and tenure tracks, but more as a physician learning skills in the academic setting to use more directly in the community, serving groups that might otherwise not be exposed to health professionals with such training.

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.

Sketch by Moises Gallegos

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

8 reasons medical school debt won’t control my life

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.

debtAfter my recent post about choosing to start a family while in school, a friend and student at another med school responded:

At least for me, another thing that comes into play is the debt load… I myself will be carrying a debt load akin to a mortgage by the time I graduate (not by choice; my tuition and fees alone work out to $55k/yr) and as someone who will most likely [be] in his mid 30s… before he starts making real money, this has really hit close to home.

Fair point. According to this nightmare-inspiring AAMC fact sheet (.pdf), the median graduating debt for U.S. med students is $175,000. That debt undoubtedly looms large in major career and life decisions such as specialty choice, where to live, and when to start a family.

Thankfully, my debt will be nowhere near that figure, and I’d like to share the reasons why. I hope this will encourage those of you applying to medical school to think broadly about factors that will impact your debt at each school on your list. When I began the application process I never would have guessed that Stanford, with a “sticker price” of $65K per year in tuition, would be my most affordable option.

Of course, everyone’s situation is different, and I can only speak from my own experience. However, it is telling that our average debt is consistently among the lowest in the country, despite our location in a region known for its sky-high cost of living.

So here’s a few of the reasons why my household of two med students and a baby will graduate with a very manageable debt burden:

1. A solid need-based financial aid package
The packages Stanford offered to my husband and me were comparable to those offered by peer institutions. That means tens of thousands in grants, plus loans that don’t accrue interest during training.

2. Teaching assistantships
The TA program is one of my favorite things about Stanford Med! The opportunity for students to teach is integrated into our curriculum and encouraged in a way that, as far as I know, doesn’t exist at any other school. We serve as very well-paid TAs (regardless of financial need) for both core preclinical courses and fun electives. As an aspiring educator, this is a dream come true. I develop my teaching skills, reinforce my knowledge of important material, get to know the students in the classes below me, and work with faculty mentors who are passionate about education – all while dramatically lowering my debt.

3. Med Scholars program
Med Scholars supports student scholarly projects (anything from working in a lab to writing a novel), by granting tuition support and a living stipend. Assuming we write a solid proposal, there’s enough funding for every student regardless of financial need, so we’re not left scrambling for scarce outside research funding.

4. Outside scholarships
My husband and I have both benefited from generous outside donors, to whom we are immensely grateful.

5. Never having to buy my lunch
In the preclinical years, rarely a day went by that I didn’t get free lunch (and sometimes dinner) through seminar series, elective courses, or student group meetings. During clinical rotations, the feast continued: Many departments have daily seminars with lunch provided. For the rare day when I don’t get fed, I can always pack my own simple but nutritious lunch for about $1.50. So there is really no reason to spend my student loan money on expensive cafeteria food.

6.“Odd jobs”
Our flexible school schedule gives me time to earn extra income through jobs like babysitting and tutoring.

7. Biking everywhere
Stanford and its surroundings are super bike-friendly, making me healthier, happier, and blissfully unaware of fluctuating gas prices.

8. Groceries from The Milk Pail Market
At this quirky little store within biking distance of campus, I can fill up my cart with enough veggies, fruits, beans, and grains to feed us for a week – all for less than $20. My medical advice is to skip their unpasteurized milk, though!

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.

SMS Unplugged

New Girl: Living the sitcom in medical school

New Girl: Living the sitcom in medical school

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.

Natalia and housemates“The question is how would the fantasy suite episode go if you were the bachelor?” My roommate Will brought the conversation back to where it started one evening. My other roommate, Dan, immediately shoveled a heaping forkful of dinner in his mouth and looked away. The first episode of this season’s “The Bachelor” had just aired, to Will’s delight. He found every opportunity to bring it up, from connecting my Venezuelan heritage to Juan Pablo’s, to discussing the scandalous elements of the show with us as we cook. Naturally, a lively conversation between the three of us followed Will’s question about the overnight dates episode, and I was still laughing when I sat down to work.

So what’s it like to live with two guys?

The question has come up numerous times amongst my classmates, friends and family. And when it does, I make a joke about the show “New Girl.” Or I tell people that it’s great as long as I clean my own bathroom. Then I change the topic of conversation because my real answer to that question goes deeper than a passing hallway conversation merits.

In the past four months, we sure have had our moments. There was the day I couldn’t choose which sundress to wear, and Dan liked them all. Or so he said when I showed them to him while he ate breakfast.

There was the day we decided to deep-clean the house. A few minutes later I turned around to find Will shirtless and mopping the floors with undiluted floor polish.

There was the day I came home and snapped at them to turn the TV off because ESPN was echoing in our living room yet again. Dan and Will surreptitiously turned the TV to mute every time I came into the living room after that.

But there were other moments, too, ones we don’t tell other people as a joke. There was the night I came home sobbing after breaking up with my boyfriend. And it was Dan, not any of my girlfriends, who got me a cup of tea and held me as I cried.

There was the time that Will broke his leg, and the following weeks when we pretended that we were going up the stairs anyway so why not let us take his bag for him.

There was the day I came home and saw Dan lying on the couch with his eyes closed, looking as aged as my grandfather after a long day.

We have no secrets in this house. We know when one of us is struggling in a class and how to bring it up. We’ve all heard each other receive distressing calls from home. We know when to give Dan alone time and when to drag Will out on a Friday night. I know when Dan has a crush and when Will gets a Snapchat from his girlfriend. They pretend not to notice when I’m eating inordinate amounts of chocolate.

These are all moments I don’t share with people when they ask what it’s like to live with two guys. This home we share is perhaps the only part of my life in medical school that doesn’t regularly push me to my limit. Rather, this is the place and they are the people I can count on to help me let my guard down. Because the truth is that living with them isn’t a gender issue. It’s about living with two classmates who have become my best friends, my confidants, and my brothers.

Natalia Birgisson is a first-year medical student at Stanford. She is half Icelandic, half Venezuelan and grew up moving internationally before coming to Stanford for college. She is interested in neurosurgery, global health, and ethics. Natalia loves running and baking; when she’s lucky the two activities even out.

Sleep, SMS Unplugged

Sleep on it: The quest for rest in the modern hospital

Sleep on it: The quest for rest in the modern hospital

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.

hospital bed cornerI first saw it on the face of a resident at the end of a 24-hour shift. And then again on the weary visage of a nurse after a whirlwind shift in the emergency room. Soon it was written across my own brow: The expression that said, It’s time to take a break. But as I soon realized, it wasn’t just the students, doctors and nurses who were struggling to get enough rest.

“It’s impossible to get any sleep here,” remarked one patient whom we awoke on early morning rounds. “There’s just constant disruption. I don’t feel like I’m healing.”

“Is there anything we can offer him besides sleep medications?” I asked the supervising physician after we left the room.

“Everyone says they can’t sleep,” he replied. “Unfortunately it’s just part of being in the hospital.”

I often ask patients to suggest one thing we can improve in their medical care. An overwhelming majority of them comment on the lack of peace and quiet. Perhaps the most memorable example was an elderly gentleman hospitalized for tuberculosis. Even in an individual room with airtight separation from others (“respiratory isolation”), he couldn’t go more than a few minutes without being disrupted. Doctors and medical students started their morning rounds before sunrise, vital signs were measured every four hours (including at night), and nurses constantly came in and out with meals and medications. He lamented, “The only thing I want to do is sleep. But as soon as I do, someone else comes in.”

Hospitals didn’t always used to be hectic. In fact, restful environments were long thought to have healing properties. Early in the 19th century, the French physician Laennec noticed lower rates of tuberculosis in seaside communities away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Wanting to bring a piece of that environment to his urban-dwelling patients, he began putting ocean seaweed under the beds of Parisians. More recently in the 1940s, a popular treatment for tuberculosis and other serious illnesses was the ‘sanatorium.’ Patients enjoyed the fresh air of the countryside, where it was thought they could rest and give their bodies a chance to build protective ‘walls’ around the infected nodules in their lungs.

The advent of antibiotics around the time of World War II brought a rapid end to seaweed, sanatoriums and other similar remedies. Nowadays, it’s easy to look back and chuckle at the idea of trying to cure tuberculosis by lying in a bed on the seashore. But it’s also increasingly difficult to justify the (somewhat) controlled chaos of today’s hospitals – an environment that is at best claustrophobic and at worst dangerous. After all, the benefits of a good night’s sleep have been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. And numerous studies show that many people live longer and healthier if sent home instead of staying in the hospital with the exact same disease. Granted, much of the benefit of going home lies in avoiding exposure to others with contagious infections. But after seeing innumerable patients exhausted from being poked and prodded around the clock, it’s hard to shake the thought that the hospital environment itself may be more pathologic than we once believed.

Many of our clinical mentors came to this realization long ago, and teach us on a daily basis how mindful doctors can buffer patients from the stresses of a bustling hospital. Of course, helping someone to rest comfortably is more easily said than done. But as students, we can at least identify role models who are the kind of physicians we want to be – physicians who notice when a patient is sleeping and decide, “I’ll come back later.” Or those who notice when someone is exhausted and ask, “What can we do to help?” And if we can help patients sleep a little better, maybe – just maybe – their doctors will too.

Mihir Gupta is a third-year medical student at Stanford. He grew up in Minnesota and attended Harvard College. Prior to writing for Scope, Mihir served as co-editor in chief of H&P, Stanford medical school’s student journal.

Photo by oddmenout

Medical Education, Medical Schools, SMS Unplugged

Top 10 reasons I’m glad to be in medical school

Top 10 reasons I’m glad to be in medical school

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.

Stanford School of Medicine class of 2013 before the Dean's Welcome Reception and Stethoscope Ceremony on Friday, August 23, 2013.  ( Norbert von der Groeben/Stanford School of Medicine )A friend of mine e-mailed me this blog entry awhile ago. Titled “10 things you need to give up to become a doctor,” the piece describes “your free weekends,” “your desire to change the world,” and eight other similarly positive items as areas of life that medical students need to sacrifice on their path to becoming a doctor.

As I read through this entry, my mood grew increasingly dismal. By opting to go to medical school, had I really committed myself to a lifetime that, according to the author, would be devoid of creativity, good health, big dreams, and more? I refused to believe that was true.

So, instead of dwelling on aspects of my life that may or may not be compromised on my path to becoming a physician, I want to highlight parts of my life that have been enriched by my medical school experience thus far. Here we go: The top ten reasons (organized loosely by importance) that I’m glad to be in medical school:

10. Four extra years of free two-day shipping via Amazon Student
I’ve ordered everything from tuning forks to trash bins – and I look forward to my future purchases being delivered via drones. Thanks, Amazon!

9. Daily dose of cheaper-than-Starbucks caffeine
For everyone paying $2.95 for a latte at Starbucks, be jealous! Stanford medical students get $2.70 lattes (+ an extra 25 cents off if you bring your own mug) at the Med Café every day.

8. 24/7 gym access
The 4th floor of Li Ka Shing is strictly for medical/bioscience students only and houses study rooms, a lounge, and a gym. Not that I ever have the urge to work out at 4 AM, but if I wanted to, I could!

7. Having friends come to me when they’re sick and feeling like I can diagnose them
Friend: “I’m feeling a little sick.”
Me: “I CAN HELP.”
(Five minutes later)
Me: “Actually, come see me again in like 4 years.”

6. Sleeping in scrubs like it’s no big deal
Because, really, they’re the most comfortable pieces of clothing I own.

5. Living life on pass/fail
It feels like this is the first time in my life where I’ve been given the freedom to learn at my own pace, in my own style. There are very few assignments in medical school, and as such, we can take the material presented to us and decide for ourselves how to master it. I can’t describe how incredibly refreshing this approach is.

4. Being on a text-message basis with role model physicians
Following my first patient encounter, one of my advisors texted me, saying: “You are a skilled, empathetic interviewer. I greatly enjoyed working together yesterday and look forward to more experiences.” Needless to say, my advisor’s thoughtful, compassionate words completely made my day.

3. Full-length white coats
At Stanford, medical students receive white coats that are just as long (i.e. up to our knees) as coats worn by MDs in the clinic – a constant reminder that there are no hierarchies: We are part of a single medical team, with the shared goal of caring for someone in need.

2. Being surrounded by inspired, motivated classmates
From founding non-profit organizations to creating World Health Organization reports to winning international awards for their research, my classmates are among the most accomplished, friendly, and down-to-earth individuals I have ever met.

1. Finding meaning every day of my life
Whether it’s through a patient visit, an anatomy lecture, a morning at pediatrics rounds, or a standardized patient encounter, I’m reminded every day that what I’m learning is directly linked to caring for others.

Hamsika Chandrasekar is a first-year medical student at Stanford’s medical school, with an interest in medical education and pediatrics.

Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

Stanford Medicine Resources: