Second Year of Medical School in Retrospect
This is my last post as a second year medical student (MS2). 😯 The first six months were spent completing the basic sciences, but over the last six months, I’ve finished rotations in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry while also doing ENT research in April. I wanted to write a post summarizing the many things I learned over the last year (like at the end of my MS1 year) but ended up discovering that there is only one, overbearing truth I’ve learned as an MS2.
Patients motivate me.
Coming into med school with a naïve pre-med mentality, I sought guidance: professors and other mentors who could get me on the right track, friends who would support me and maintain my sanity, and most importantly, sources of inspiration which would keep me motivated. Once clinics started in January, patients filled this void I had during the basic sciences, and I’m continually drawn to the idea of helping a complete stranger in a way that no one else can… fulfilling my “need to be needed”, if you will.
It doesn’t matter if you consider medicine a right or privilege, a lucrative business or a selfless service, refined or corrupt — when I’m at that patient’s bedside armed with medical knowledge, resources, and the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, everything else becomes irrelevant. I find myself frozen in time listening… synthesizing… formulating a diagnosis… thinking of how to best help the patient. People are always talking about the delayed gratification physicians in training must learn to accept, but these daily patient encounters are in themselves very rewarding. Extrapolate that over the career of a physician, and that’s a lot of joy. 🙂
Many times on my commute to the Texas Medical Center, I wonder what interesting disease presentations and life stories I’ll encounter on the wards that day. I’ll also make up weird scenarios to keep my differential wide, constantly challenging myself to draw connections between disease processes whenever possible. As a medical student, my job is to soak up whatever clinical information I can and explore the career paths which most interest me. In the process, I’ve learned that putting a patient’s face to a condition makes it timeless. Flipping through textbook pages becomes routine and cumbersome, but actually seeing a case of, for example, Stevens-Johnson syndrome… and seeing how it affects the patient, his/her family, how to work-up the case and treat it… *sighs*, this is how medicine was meant to be taught – making patients the cornerstone of education.
“Continuity of care” is a phrase routinely thrown around in fields like family medicine. It refers to the ongoing relationship between a patient and physician towards improved medical care. Before med school, imagined myself as a surgeon who would operate on patients once, and then… well, that’s it. Maybe a follow-up but nothing beyond that. Now I foresee myself as an otolaryngologist who follows his patient’s chronic sinusitis for years, or a neurosurgeon who removes a child’s posterior fossa tumor and sees her blossom into a successful young adult decades later. Maybe it’s the future parent in me, but I feel the most rewarding thing I’ll see as a physician is not the successful operation, but the patient achieving his or her full potential because of the operation giving them a second chance at a healthy life. 🙂
During my Internal Medicine and Psychiatry rotations, I encountered an incredibly vast array of patients, but there’s one thing all of them had in common – they each taught me something. Something about the military… about being a grandparent… about what it’s like to be homeless… about being abused… what life was like as a physician… and so forth. They shared secrets, joked about their spouses, and praised me for taking time to explain disease processes, describe how certain medications work, and just talk to them as a fellow human being. I indescribably loved the privilege of their interaction and trust in me as a student doctor.
…and this was just six months of clinics. I wonder what I’ll see in the coming decades as I finish med school, go onwards to residency, and ultimately start practicing. My MS3 year will be the most challenging year of my life to date (lots of rotations and Step I), but I’m looking to remain motivated by putting patients at the forefront.
Thanks to everyone for their kind e-mails, comments, and words of encouragement throughout the past year! 🙂