First Year of Medical School in Retrospect
Now that I’m officially a second year medical student (MS2), I thought it would be nice to reflect on the things I learned in the first eleven months of this journey.
I learned about medicine.
This is medical school, after all. In the first six months, I probed human anatomy by studying my cadaver – an unfathomable vault of medical knowledge and consequently my “best teacher” (as the Baylor Med profs like to say). My donor’s body provided me with examples of structure-function evolution teetering along biological perfection each and every lab. From the squishy, air-filled sacs of the lungs to the muscle-tendon-bone connections responsible for our incredible range of motion, human gross anatomy was easily my favorite course in the first four blocks and a rare privilege I will never forget. (link to my anatomy posts)
We covered the enzyme-regulated reactions of metabolism and the mechanisms which drive our body towards homeostasis in a constantly changing environment. We covered cardio, respiratory, renal, GI, endocrine, and reproductive anatomy, physiology, histology… just about every “-ology” known to the biological sciences. 🙂 We explored the incredible expanse of the nervous system, appreciated how different bacteria, viruses, protists, fungi, and parasites invade the body and precipitate disease, thanked evolution for the wonderful immunological response we’ve developed to combat the aforementioned infectious agents, and picked up a bit of pharmacology along the way.
Is medical school really like “trying to drink out of a fire hose?” Eh, sort of. But it’s always humbling to think that by the time I graduate, medical knowledge will have doubled. Medicine, therefore, can never be entirely “mastered”, but as healers trained in both learning and compassion, it’s a lifelong goal to keep up with the latest knowledge and treatments.
I learned about camaraderie.
Having come from a relatively small college, Baylor Med was my first experience with a class of more than thirty people. Way more. While I enjoyed the small-scale setting of undergrad, having ~180 incredibly intelligent, diverse classmates with an identical goal fosters a level of camaraderie unlike any other. Whose notes do I use for the upcoming exam? Do I play basketball this week with one group or go out to dinner with another group? Or both? On top of this, these are the same people who go out of their way to follow up on why you’ve been missing lecture, why you skipped that party, if you need any lab handouts, help moving, or offer to let you crash at their place rather than having to drive home after a late night of studying. I’ve learned that there are two constants in at Baylor Med – the feeling of belonging to a family and lots of opportunities for free food. And I’m not entirely sure about the latter. 😉
I learned about patients.
To this day, I remember the first, middle, and last name of the first patient I encountered in my ob/gyn preceptorship. Her chief complaint, her appearance, her husband’s recent surgery, her grandchildren’s life goals, and most importantly, her advice going forward as a medical student are as plain to me today as they were nearly a year ago. It’s this intangible “human factor” which defines, in my opinion, the most rewarding part of being a physician and why I chose this profession over research/IT.
The first time I had my preceptorship at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital, I made the mistake of putting on my white coat in the parking lot (so I could stuff my notepad, stethoscope, etc. in its pockets). Before I even got to the door of the hospital, I was stopped on three different occasions by VA-goers asking if I knew where the bus stop was and if I knew which floor so-and-so worked on. Each of these individuals had an identical greeting – “Doctor, do you know…?” In my infinite ignorance, I didn’t know the answer to any of their questions, but the fact that they even considered me a potential source of information was uplifting. “Doctor”… wow, that title is only three years away.
I learned about the human condition.
In block 4, I wrote about my experience in a clinical ethics round at the trauma center. Two and a half months later, the snapshot of that patient is a humbling reminder of what we fight to prevent. Is it ethical to pull the plug to salvage hospital resources given the patient’s terminal condition? Does the daughter have the right to keep her mom alive? What really is “dead” according to the state of Texas? It just baffles me… ten minutes away from the very lecture hall where I learned about ethical guidelines, doctors and patients alike are having to make difficult decisions on a daily basis.
As MS1s, we also touched on a number of “bad things” that can happen to the human body during development, age-related degeneration, and results of infection. It’s amazing how precious a healthy life really is. The fact that you’re reading this is a testament to a series of mechanisms being executed in a precise order during your development. Your immune system is constantly battling off foreign particles to keep you healthy. Your entire body is synchronized in a very narrow window of pH values, electrolyte concentrations, temperatures, etc. to ensure your survival. And all of this without you even thinking about it. Truly remarkable! 🙂
But disaster strikes when, for example, a normally healthy cell goes rogue and becomes cancerous. This is where death becomes a reality. Patients die… all the time. Sometimes when they come to the hospital, they’re already terminal and show few or no symptoms. How have I coped with the fact that, as a physician, I will fail from time to time? It’s because of a well known medical philosophy which I previously blogged about – “to cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.”
I learned about myself.
I learned that I’m lazy and have warm hands. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit. 😀 Nah, in reality, it’s hard to really gauge how I’ve changed since August 2009, but that’s the beauty of keeping a blog. I can go back anytime and appreciate how I’ve reacted to the medical environment over the last year.
In spite of the rigors, tribulations, successes, failures, friendships, and questionable situations I’ve been confronted with over the last year, there’s one inexorable truth – I’m really, really enjoying medical school. With clinicals starting in January, here’s hoping I finish the basic sciences on a strong note while trying to remain humble, helpful, and happy. 🙂