Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Great Stupidifier - Medical School

For anyone out there with masochistic tendencies who really wants to feel stupid, I recommend medical school.  It's not that my peers, classmates, competitors -- or whatever I would call them -- are doing much or any better than I am. It's just that there's nothing like meeting up with subject matter not available at any of my previous stations in academia or in life.  It highlights just how much I don't know when I study for twelve hours and feel as though I've barely made a dent in the material I  must commit to memory forever or at least for the duration of my professional career.

With academic work I've done in the past, I've known that much of it was not tremendously pertinent to my life. I could learn what I needed to learn to ace a course, and then choose to remember it if it was in anyway useful or interesting, or to forget it if it wasn't. It may be that someday I'll decide that in the grand scheme of things,  something that I'm learning right now really doesn't have much to do with my field of medicine or is otherwise cluttering my brain, and will have the freedom to forget it.

Somehow I doubt that such will be the case. I think the professors are probably speaking the truth when they tell us that learning about how cells form tissues and learning the early principles of molecular biology  and med school anatomy (not to be confused with the most advanced undergrad anatomy course available anywhere, which everyone in the class has taken) lay the foundations for everything we'll ever learn about the scientific aspects of healing.  I think what I'm learning now will have to remain in my brain for the foreseeable future, at least in some dormant form.

Very soon, I will undergo a few hours of clinical instruction regarding the basics of vital signs of the human body. This will enable me to process the basic intake of E.R. patients for just a very small amount of time each week.  It used to be, back in the dinosaur days when my dad went to medical school, that a med school students wouldn't get within shouting distance of a patient until Year # 3 of medical school. All that has changed. I'm not sure precisely why, as it seemed like a pretty good system to me. Perhaps it's because anyone willing to put in the time and effort can learn what's in a book, but for me and for most of the opposition (I don't love to think of those who are studying with me as such, but that's the way it is now if I'm to be honest), what will allow us to succeed or cause us to fail miserably in the field of medicine will be the ability [or inability] to synthesize what we've learned and somehow make sense of it and make use of it in the real world.

I can't speak for the experience of anyone else in the program, but for me, it's like building a bridge. Right now, I'm on one side of a body of water and building out across the water to another piece of land. I've built my bridge maybe a total of three feet into the roughly 10 miles of water I'll need to build it across in order to reach land again. In roughly two weeks, I'm going to take a helicopter or row a little boat or somehow get all the way across to that other section of land and start building the bridge from that side. I'll build on that side for maybe five minutes, then fly or row back to the other side to build again from the original side. I know what's on the very beginning of this side, and I'll know what's on the very start of the bridge on the other side very soon, but my two ends of the bridge are in no way even remotely close to being connected, and I have no clue just what it is that will one day connect them. I don't really know for certain that the ends of the bridge will ever connect.

I'm taking it on faith that all the people who have ever done this before me are not co-conspirators in some ginormously perpetrated hoax and that this is not some bizarre hazing ritual designed to cull the weak, ignorant, and insufficiently dedicated among us.  The anatomy part I get. Yes, a doctor has to know the bones and everything there is to know about each and every one of them.  Most of us knew all the bones before we ever set foot on campus for medical school interviews. Now we get the fun of actually finding them on a real [used-to-be] live human body. (Yes, I did throw up in my first anatomy lab, but I wasn't the only one to do so.)  It's the more abstract learning of cellular and molecular biology that is perplexing me. How what I'm learning in classrooms could ever have anything to do with removing someone's appendix, ridding someone's body of a kidney stone, or even stitching up some child's boo boo, is still very much a mystery to me.

I could take the easy way out.  I could do the job I plan ultimately to do with a mere PhD in biochemistry or even microbiology.  I chose this more difficult path, and now I'm really wondering into what sort of quagmire I've gotten myself.  And, at the end of the day when my head is just short of imploding and they let us out until morning, now I don't even have Judge Alex episodes with which to distract myself. (Curse you, Fox! And you have the audacity to call yourself a real network!)

If it sounds as though I'm treading water and just barely keeping my head above the surface, that's probably not a wholly inaccurate description of my current state.  The only thing really keeping me sane and here is that, while some are better at faking it than I, they're in every bit as much trouble as I am.  The ones who are the least stressed are the few who don't really belong here with the rest of us and haven't yet figured it out. Some of them believe that pass/fail grading means basically everyone passes. Everyone doesn't pass.

I will pass. It seems grim now, but I'll get through it. And I'll do the pre-clerkship portion of medical school in two years, not the three years that the administration is so heavily pushing us to extend it to. I know if it's difficult for me, it's even more difficult for some others.  I can see it in their eyes even if they pretend to be having the time of their lives.  Nobody here is both having fun and passing. It's interesting, but it's not fun. Any one of us who thinks he or she is having fun is going to be out of here after December.

It's accurate except for "What my family thinks." Too many people in my family have been to med school for anyone to believe this.


  1. Indeed you can do it. This makes me very happy for your future patients, although I know things aren't so great for you right now.

  2. One day at a time, and even on the really hard days, one hour at a time. They wouldn't have picked you if they didn't think you had any potential.