Saturday, September 29, 2007

God complexes and entitlement

So, I took a practice practical and practice written for anatomy yesterday. (The former was organized by the second years, the latter was in Gray's). Barely passed the practical and solidly flunked the written. Methinks today I will memorize the syllabus, which apparently is the key to success is anatomy.

My anatomy prof is a bit of a jerk -- ok, a serious jerk. In lab, there are a few professors who wander around helping us find structures. One of them, as he was digging out the sympathetic chain ganglia for us, gave us a beautiful explanation of the nervous system, which our actual professor can't teach for a million bucks. We asked if he could give a NS lecture to the class, and apparently Dr. Jerk won't let him because "students shouldn't have to seek outside help."

Going along with that, one of my classmates bumped into the doctor who did our radiology lectures, who was surprised to learn that there would be a radiology component to the anatomy exam. She offered to hold office hours Sunday morning for student questions. As I got dressed after the practice practical, I heard some of the other women in my class bitching that Dr. R. was having Sunday office hours. "Sunday morning. I want to sleep."

Well, so do I. I'm sure Dr. R. would rather sleep, or be with her family, or whatever. As far as I can tell, office hours are totally optional for professors here. Unlike in college, where they are required to hold a certain number of office hours (which they are paid for), here they do it on their own time. And so even though I value my rest, I also am incredibly grateful to any lecturer who is willing to reteach the material so that we understand it.

Most of my class is pretty cool. And I know we're all stressed and tired and cranky about these upcoming exams. But ingratitude like that just smacks of entitlement.

Friday, September 21, 2007

First exams are in about ten days. My study group met for the first time this afternoon and we tried to cover three weeks' worth of material in just a few hours. It was rough, but I think it was worthwhile. Much easier to study when there are others to talk through the slides with.

Tomorrow, we are going into the anatomy lab to look at various cadavers and aberrancies. Our anatomy exam is only on the thorax, but it's frightening to think how much material is contained in just that segment.

We start clerkships next week. It's not anything like 3rd year rotations: we just learn to interview patients under the guidance of a clinical care provider. We had a practice session today with patient-actors, and it was incredibly difficult.... Perhaps I was concentrating too hard on my body language, because I had trouble coming up with things to say. Whereas I'm sure that if I met this woman (or character, whatever) in a regular social context, without the white coat, I would find it much easier to establish rapport, etc.

On the fun side of things, I went to a wine tasting last night and learned all about Italian wines. It was sort of my last free night before I buckle down and study.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Radiographic Anatomy

Here's what I did in lecture today: an artistic representation of a transverse section of the heart screaming, "Help, I'm trapped in the mediastinum!"

Radiology is not hard per se -- all you do is look at films all day -- but they are kind of throwing us into things without any real context. When Dr. R. pointed to haze and said "This is clearly the aortic arch," we all sort of giggled nervously. Even histo's clearer than this.

Other than difficulty with the chest X-rays and CT scans, life and classes are going well. I just got back from a weekend in the Catskills, chaperoning low-income city kids for an enrichment program run out of the children's hospital here. They learned team-building and I re-learned how much I enjoy working with kids and helping them understand the world around them. Around the campfire, I told them all about the stars -- they'd never seen stars before -- and Cassopeia and Orion and slaves running north with only the Big Dipper to guide them. They were fascinated, and I got an incredible rush from telling them something new and exciting. I think I'm going to get more involved with the program as the school year goes on.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Reflections on the first week

Now that my first official week of med school is over, let's look back at my courses.

For 2 hours every morning, we have an integrated basic science class, which thus far is basically one-week crash courses in biochem (last week) and cell bio (this week). I'm very very thankful that I've seen the material before, because it allows me to concentrate on ....

... Anatomy! Our first lecture, on Tuesday, was three hours long. No breaks to speak of. (I think we had five minutes while he was figuring out how to change powerpoints.) Lots of vocabulary. Thursday's lecture was a little better, because it was (1) coherent and (2) intellectually interesting. However, then we went into lab, which was a little rough. Although several of my older family members have died, I'd never seen a body that close up. Ours doesn't have a first name on her wristband, which means she was probably unclaimed. It's tough to console yourself with thoughts of honoring a person's dying wish, when you know that they are only there on the table by accident. Also, my grandfather, who died just over a year ago, donated his body to the medical school where he used to teach. My reaction to "Alba" (what I have named my group's cadaver) made me wonder about his body. Still, a friend later reminded me of Sydney Carton's last words -- "It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done." -- and I felt a bit better. This unknown person might be my most intimate teacher in medical school -- and that reminded me of Eklavya and Dronacharya.

On Thursday, a patient of one of our professors came in to talk to our entire class about her chronic illness, which was very touching. She's been through a great deal of pain and suffering -- it was difficult for her to hold the microphone up -- and yet she was in remarkable spirits. She even joked about some of the doctors who misdiagnosed her and told us that her inner strength comes from her hope that life will be better for the next generation of those with this horribly painful disease. I find that remarkably selfless, and it certainly puts into perspective my whining about having to study.

On Friday, we spent most of the day in our small groups, learning about what to do if someone collapses on the street. The basic gist was "don't do anything, but if you really want to, pretend to be MacGyver and improvise a splint out of the New York Times." It was kind of fun and pretty interactive -- and I did learn a lot about trauma cases -- but I'm not sure how useful it would be "in the field." Still, it wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday.

So far, at least, med school isn't THAT bad. Sure, I have to study 4-5 hours a day, every day, but it's intellectually interesting stuff, which makes all the difference in my opinion. I am also a nerd who doesn't ever go to bars. :) I'm sure it will get tougher as time goes on, but I still think it's the right decision.

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