poured out before bed
“They haven’t really taught us anything.”
The tall first year medical student shrugs sheepishly and looks to her peers for support.
I smile. “Well, that’s good – then no one has stolen my thunder!”
I look at this group of M-1’s, some bright eyed, others a little dull with fear, most taking it one day at a time, and I am happy they have come to the physical exam preview session run by a handful of M-3’s interested in teaching. I certainly remember what it was like to be in their shoes, quite a while ago, but not so long that I’ve become jaded, unsympathetic to their plight. And I most definitely recall the things upper classmen did to either bash or bolster me in those times.* I hope to do and say all that falls into the latter category.
With a flourish I produce the trappings necessary for a neurological exam. Cotton tipped applicator, tongue depressor snapped jaggedly in half, tuning forks of various sizes, a forceps, a paper clip, pen-light, reflex hammer, oto and ophthalomoscope, and my trusty, trusty Maxwell. I choose a well-appearing male student in no apparent distress and shorts, sit him up on the table before me, and systematically run through the exam, sneaking in some tips and a few jokes here and there, asking a few simple questions to boost their confidence. Then I hand out a cheat sheet for the full exam and split the nerdy gaggle into pairs to practice, moving from group to group and gently correcting, re-demonstrating, and answering questions about the physical exam, about the basic science and clerkship years of medical school, and about life in general. The session is low-key, relaxed, and soon everyone is chatty, laughing, emboldened to ask their own questions, crack their own jokes.
Before I know it, it’s 8pm.
“Well kids,” I say with a wink. “You should probably get out of here and do something that’s actually cool and fun. And maybe eat some dinner and…do you guys actually sleep? I know exams are coming up.” The group laughs, hands over the instruments I’ve let them borrow, and the mass shuffle of packing up ensues.
As they file out with giggles and thanks and promises to return for the next session, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to find one of the shier M-1’s. She takes my hand.
“Thanks for making me feel comfortable today. Most people just tell us how hard and important things are, and they are disappointed when we don’t get it the first time. You made it make sense – and it was fun. I like it when people make me feel a little less afraid.” There are tears of shed frustration in the corners of her eyes.
I squeeze her hand. “No problem. Med school is hard – for everyone, even the ones that want you to perceive it as being easy for them. Everyone is a little afraid, and fear can be good – it can drive you – but you shouldn’t let it destroy you. You can do this. It only gets easier as you keep going, too.”
“I think you’re right,” she says with a grin. “Thanks again.” She grabs her water bottle and is gone. I pack up my trappings, and reflect on how my long busy day feels much shorter and fulfilling, look forward to next months teaching session.