There are so many things that are worth writing about on and around Thanksgiving.
For those of us interested in ancestral health and evolutionarily-appropriate eating it’s fun to explore what a pre-pilgrim Thanksgiving feast might have been. Yesterday I spotted this article on Twitter discussing what a pre-pilgrim dinner would have looked like in Portland (the location of my penultimate residency interview!). It is well worth a read.
My Thanksgiving feast this year is certainly of the ‘more traditional’ pilgrim/post-pilgrim variety, and will consist of a locally raised wild turkey and a Bourbon Red – a heritage breed turkey. Incidentally, I don’t expect any Wild Turkey Bourbon will be consumed…
Thanksgiving is also a great, and thoroughly appropriate, time to talk about what we are each thankful for. Family, friends, food, shelter, health; even the ‘least fortunate’ amongst us in the developed world are incredibly blessed when we look around the world and see those without access to clean water, basic medical care, or basic freedoms and security.
As I reach the end of my med school career, and pathologically over-think my future options, it seems like a very appropriate time to look back and think about what I am most thankful for from this rather lengthy journey. Without a doubt, the thing I am most grateful for during the last 8.5 (*gulp!*) years is people.
As some of you may know, it was never my intention to be a doctor. Truth be told, I never would have taken the MCATs (Medical College Admission Test) if my summer roommate hadn’t dared me to do it. Nipa, though you won’t be reading this, Thank you. On the day that I took the test I met a charming and chatty pre-med while we waited in line. She thought my light-hearted approach to the MCAT was hilarious and offered me her AIM screen name so we could chat if I decided to apply to med school. Without Jackie my AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application would have been submitted sans-personal statement, an act that certainly would have doomed my efforts. Incidentally, Jackie and I ended up attending the same medical school, so I’ve had the opportunity (even as recently as a couple of months ago, since she pursued residency training locally) to express my thanks to her.
My large university had a “Pre-health” office that assists aspiring health professionals prepare their application for medical school. When I called to ask if they would help me (only a month or so before applications were due), they told me that they could help me get my application ready… for the next year. Fortunately the pre-health office at the woman’s college campus was willing to take me on (despite the fact that I wasn’t from her college), making my application to medical school a reality.
The day before my first medical school interview my college roommate asked me what I was planning to wear for my interview, telling me “I think people wear suits for med school interviews.”. I laughed this off, but after a last minute email exchange with my advisor my roommate went shopping with me to help me find an appropriate suit. I alternate between cringing and chuckling when I think about the response I would have received had I shown up to a med school interview in a tank top and cool Malaysian Sarong, my original plan! Incidentally, prior to my residency interviews I headed to Long Island to meet up with this same friend for another suit-shopping experience (this suit is much sharper, if I do say so myself!).
I applied and interviewed for more PhD programs than I did MD/PhD ones (though since I only interviewed at four PhD programs that’s not saying much!). I was very tempted by two of the stand-alone PhD programs, and my decision to pursue the combined degree literally came down to the final day. I remember the day before the decision was due I met with an MD/PhD student who sold me on the virtues of a combined program. Without Jay, it’s entirely possible I would have opted for a non-clinical route. Another good friend, who’s opinion I still very much value, had warned me that “No sane person puts herself through the torture of med school unless she’s sure she really want to be a doctor.”. I’m not saying he’s wrong- I’m sure there’s quite a list of people who have questioned my sanity over the years!
Someone who has contributed more to my medical education than he shall ever know is Russell. I thank “Russell”, though I shall never know his real name. Russell was a 74-year-old man who died of “coronary artery disease”, at least that’s what his cause of death was listed as. While I became very familiar with his body, I will never know anything about his life. From his lean and muscular body (Russell was short for “Russell the muscle”), I imagined him as a fit and active man, but I shall never know. Books have been written about gross anatomy lab (including one written about the experience at my school- my anatomy teacher is on the cover of this book!), and I’m sure every student has a slightly different experience of this ‘right of passage’. I feel safe saying that we are all, uniformly, thankful for the gift that our donors gave.
I’m not going to go through and thank all the people who helped me survive (I would not call it thrive) in medical school. Completing my PhD was a particularly stressful time, and I am forever thankful for the many people who supported me through that experience. Returning to medical school (after 4.5 yrs in the lab) was difficult, but made much easier by classmates who did their best to get me up to speed on the floors. The three guys I did my first neurology rotation with were particularly kind in helping me hold-it-together while stressing out about how to present a patient to our attending physician for the first time.
I would be remiss for not recognizing the role that many of my residents played in my development as a future physician. Some residents love to teach while others barely tolerate students, but even the grumpiest and most sleep-deprived resident shaped my experience in someway (for better or worse). Likewise, various attending physicians have been mentors that I struggle to recall while others have truly fashioned some aspect of my clinical or personal development.
It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a hospital to make a doctor. When you are a medical student or resident-physician, nurses, physician assistants, therapists, and social workers can make or break your day. The reality is that these people frequently know more than you about what your patient actually needs. Speaking of patients- they are, of course, an integral part of medical education. Many are lost in my memory, but others will stay with me throughout my clinical career, for the impact they had on my medical knowledge and the impact they had on me personally.
As important as all of these people have been to my development as a clinician and a person, I am most grateful for my friends. I have loved the poem “A Prayer” by Frank Dempster Sherman (1860-1916) since college, and as I travel around the country interviewing for residency programs (and catching up with friends along the way), it has never struck so true.
I have a fantastic network of friends, one that I am truly thankful to have nurtured over the years. In an era when the word “friend” may conjure up thoughts of a virtual connection on facebook (especially when in the same sentence as the word “network”), it can be easy to lose touch with people that matter or let friendships devolve into a series of “likes” and “pokes”. On the other hand, online social networks can help make connections that have been lost.
When I interviewed in Vermont I met up with a friend I have not seen since High School. On my way home from an interview in New Hampshire I spent the weekend catching up with friends in Boston. Before heading to Colorado for an interview I went to play polocrosse (imagine a combination of polo and lacrosse) for the first time in 2.5 years, in Texas. There I saw friends that I have literally not seem for years, but who opened their homes and stables to me without hesitation. With the exception of one upcoming interview, all of my interview travels are combined with a visit with one or more friend.
When I entered medical school I was unsure whether I would ever use my clinical degree in practice. The medical knowledge would be useful for asking relevant research questions and the clinical knowledge would be useful when friends and family needed phone-a-friend medical advice, but I certainly was not sold on the idea of being a clinician when I entered medical school.
Now I am sold- I do want to practice clinical medicine (as well as be involved in research and academics), and I am forever grateful to all the people who have helped me find my way along this path. My desire to be a fount of knowledge for my friends and family is still one of my greatest drivers, and it is certainly a large part of why I have chosen to pursue family medicine. I’ve been warned many times that friends and family make the worst patients- they’re notorious for not listening to someone they’ve known since “way back when”. That’s fine- I really am OK with that (just keep your griping to a minimum when your low-fat, low-cal, low-“food” diet fails to leave you feeling great.). I do hope, however, that when my friends do need me, I can live up to the last line of that fantastic poem.
Oh, and if you’re curious, this is polocrosse. Check out americanpolocrosse.org for more info.