StudentSpeak is pleased to present a guest post by first-year M.D. student Alice Rear.
“What do I do with my hands?” The question occurs to me as soon as I walk in the room. I thought I had considered every aspect of this encounter: how I would introduce myself, how much eye contact was appropriate, how I could express empathy without sounding insincere or patronizing. I never considered how my appendages would feel flopping by my sides or resting listless on my lap. Giving hand gestures a try makes me feel like a traffic director, and I immediately abandon the strategy. Taking a seat, I wonder if I should cross my legs on the low stool. I experiment crossing and uncrossing them, then cross them again. I uncomfortably commit to the crossed conformation, regretting it instantly. My questions, which felt fluid when rehearsed, are now awkward, jarring and disjointed. Realizing my speech has become incomprehensibly rapid, my face grows warm and flushed. I am certain my smile, expression and posture radiate my anxiety.
My first clinical skills exam feels uncannily like a first date gone wrong. In many ways this is an apt comparison as medical school inspires many of the same emotions as a romantic relationship. It can be as elating, disheartening and all encompassing as falling in love. Interactions as a training physician can be vulnerable in a way I did not anticipate, and in the same way I have learned about myself from loving another person, I have uncovered new aspects of myself while studying how to care for a patient.
Walking into an exam room, particularly during clinical skills tests, I often feel like I’m being evaluated not just as a student, but as a person as well. My empathy, vocabulary, skills and style are all open for critique and discussion. There have been instances where I have walked home feeling raw, questioning my ability to be a doctor and my place at OHSU. Interactions with the standardized patients have also been some of my most elating moments. Getting the correct diagnosis is great, but being told that the patient felt heard, safe and that they were comfortable with my clinical manner makes me feel real joy.
I had a similar moment during the medical specialty “speed dating” event held at the end of last term. Physicians and alumni from OHSU generously donated their time to talk to the first year students about the perks and unique challenges of their specialties and what traits make someone well suited to their area of medicine. The physicians describe a path that is reminiscent to finding a life partner. You choose a specialty based on its best and worst qualities, but also on how you feel while working there. When you look at the people who devote themselves to that type of medicine do you see yourself? I learned this choice is a journey of self-discovery, informed by both introspection and feedback from trusted friends and advisors.
A wide variety of fields were represented ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics and surgery to family medicine, and each physician had a unique perspective on medicine informed by their specialty. However, what truly struck me was that they each maintained an excitement and passion for their field even after many years of practice. It was inspiring to hear that they were still in love with medicine. I spoke with a pediatric endocrinologist about her path to an unexpected area of her chosen specialty, and her particular passion for working with transgender youth. I had the opportunity to ask an oncologist what he enjoys about his work in a field most would find emotionally daunting. It was comforting to hear from an emergency room doctor who chose his specialty at the last possible minute.
Sometimes in the daily grind it is easy to forget how truly lucky I am to be here, my passion for this profession and how grateful I am to pursue a career where my role is to care for others. Medical professionals have a unique privilege to act as healers, and hearing physicians speak about the fulfillment they find in their vocation was inspiring. This journey is often overwhelming, but in connecting with my peers, learning from mentors, and most of all in caring for patients I find joy. It really is a labor of love.