Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Our teachers have a favorite sports analogy about medical school: It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’ve heard this at least four times since we started school in mid-August, most recently  last week.

It’s a decent analogy. Certainly medical school is a long haul, and you need to pace yourself. But there’s another sports analogy that seems more apt to me. Med school is like an auto race. One minute I was sitting still, and now I’m hurtling forward. I can’t believe how fast I’m going, or how quickly I got to this speed.

Our first class is known as GIE — Gross Anatomy, Imaging and Embryology. (Gross just means anatomy you can see without a microscope, though its more common meaning also applies at times.) Our first day of class was August 23. By August 26, we were cutting through vertebrae to see the spinal cord in lab. By now, we’ve learned the anatomy of the hands, arms, back, abdomen, thorax and pelvis, and are about to polish off the legs and feet. By Nov. 5, we will have finished the head and be done with the class. At the same point, we will have been through the basics of human development from fertilizing the egg through the formation of all the big organ systems, and learned a bit about how to look at X-rays and MRIs. That’s a lot of information in 11 weeks.

The interesting thing about this, for me, is not really how much I have to learn but how little I can afford to forget. I’ve crammed a lot of information into my brain in a short span before, knowing I can unpack it onto a test form and then blithely forget it. Indeed, that’s an honored tradition of pre-medical education in the United States. But much of what I’m learning now, I really need to know — or, more importantly, my patients will really need me to know some day. So as I’m speeding along, I have to keep track of where I’ve been as well as where I’m headed. It’s enough to distract me from just how fast we’re moving, which is nice. Otherwise, I think it would be a little terrifying.

5 responses to “Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

  1. Andy,

    You didn’t perchance have a career as a journalist at the Oregonian, did you? If not, you might find it interesting to know that you share the same name as their “Health writer.”

  2. Sometimes I think there’s a real danger–for patients as well as students–in the pace that we go. I’ve talked with other healthcare professionals (PAs, chiropractors, nurses) and sometimes I feel like they spend more time on and know anatomy better than I do. Aren’t I supposed to feel like an expert? Maybe not, but feeling less competent than your colleagues–when you’re the one with the most decision-making authority–is disconcerting to say the least.

  3. Hi, Spencedo,
    I am the erstwhile Oregonian reporter, hoping there are, in fact, second acts in American life. The picture’s a little off, because I have a beard now, but it’s less than two years old. Maybe I’ll write a post about how med school ages you prematurely…

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