From Lilliput to Brobdingnag

Our education system expects us to stand out. Ace tests, achieve high grades, excel at extracurriculars, have leadership ability. Those pursuing a career as a doctor, including myself, need to be some of the rattiest rats in this race. We compete to get into a good college, then compete to get into medical school (avg. 6.9% acceptance rate in 2015), then compete to get into residency, then many compete to get into fellowship. So naturally, we learn how to stand out, how to be the best, how to look good in the eyes of others. M3 year turns all that upside down.

Surgery rotation is kind of like performing in a play for which you haven’t rehearsed (the British don’t refer to ORs as theatres for no reason). Everyone knows what’s happening and what to do next while you run around trying to figure out your role without getting in the way. And as everything is going on, you’re expected to know your lines (ie know the answers to all the questions you get asked by the doctors, a process we lovingly refer to as getting pimped). This experience so far has really shown me my position at the bottom of the medical food chain, and the transition from town scholar to village idiot has not been easy.

One of the side effects of always being in leadership and working on self promotion is developing a complex of needing to be in charge. Not necessarily in the sense of telling people what to do, but at least always having the answers and dictating the terms of what happens to you. Over the past month, I’ve answered questions wrong multiple times, been kicked out of ORs (due to crowding, not stupidity), bumbled through presentations, gotten in the way of people, and even accidentally broke scrub once. My ego/complex has already taken a substantial beating and I still have a month left.

Even though the past month has been tough, I think the experience has broadened my mind in ways that I think will help me become a more compassionate person. When I feel stupid, embarrassed, or incompetent, I remember those who throw me a lifeline vs those who make me feel worse; and by remembering what the differences were, I learn to incorporate helpful actions into my behavior. This will be especially important when it comes to patient care. Knowing what it’s like to be in a vulnerable position with limited knowledge will help me better empathize with patients and know how to approach them in a way that will make them feel better, not worse about their situation. Always being in charge of things can really blind you to what others may feel, so overall I’m thankful to be put through the furnace in this way. The next month will continue bringing these tough experiences, and I hope to continue reflecting on them and learning more about myself and others as I go through each challenge.

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