Brought to you by the students of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
By Meredith Harris
At the Physician and Society community project presentation at the end of first year, a slideshow of pictures from the beginning of the year scrolled in the background before the session began. There was something different about all of our appearances, aside from the newly-acquired eye bags and the “haven’t seen the sun in a while” pallor we had developed in the last 10 months. While I found nothing to put my finger on, we all seemed younger - perhaps more naïve and even more innocent. There is no doubt that the experiences we have been through since that terrifying first day of medical school changed each of us in some way. While a picture may be able to capture the physical changes we experienced, it is only the tip of the iceberg in our evolution throughout our first year of medical school.
We learned an excessive amount of information in a short amount of time. While some liken this to drinking from a fire hose, at times it felt like drinking from Niagara Falls using only a cocktail straw. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to scrape by, sometimes involving more caffeine and library table cat naps than others. We learned about topics we never wanted to know about (endometriosis has a chocolate truffle like appearance) and topics about which we never thought to inquire. However, more strikingly, this year we learned how much we still have to learn. We have passed the point where we are no longer ignorant to our lack of knowledge, but this only highlights the information and skill gap we still need to cross before we can become competent physicians. The good news is we have three more years of medical school to get there. And then, residency. And then, perhaps, fellowships. And then there’s that whole life-long learning thing—but let’s focus on the here and now. While we may have much further to go before we can answer all those medical questions our families think we magically know now, we still have developed a knowledge base that will be a springboard for the rest of our careers.
Defeat is another “first year coming-of-age experience” that many of us grappled with. Amazingly, we all came out alive on the other side. Whether literally failing a test or class, not scoring as high as we did in undergrad, cutting off the entire gluteus maximus and thus making oneself ineligible for the Golden Scalpel, or not being selected for something that we wanted, we learned how it feels to no longer be top dog. While failure never feels especially wonderful, it is something we must learn to handle gracefully. None of us will always succeed in medicine and it is often how one acts in defeat that reveals one’s character, more so than how one acts in success. While Dr. Brian Adams did enlighten us on the wonderful world of dermatology, he failed to mention that being in medicine requires thick skin. Rebounding from defeat is just part of process that strengthens us for the future.
Furthermore, being a first year medical student is almost a free pass for making amateur moves. Never again will we be able to utter, “I’m only a first year medical student” and have everyone blindly accept our incompetence. With each passing year, we will be expected to know more and to err less. This comes with a lot of responsibility, but that is why they do not give us the scalpel in our first week and tell us to go operate on living patients (or even dead ones for the first 8 months). It is easiest to learn from mistakes when the consequences are minimal. It is our responsibility to take all of these minor mistakes and learn from them. There will come a time when the consequences of these mistakes affect more than just ourselves.
Finally, a discussion of the first year of medical school would not be complete without a discussion of all the friendships we have made over this last year. Not since grade school have we been in a situation where we are in every class is with the exact same group of people, though I think it is fair to say that medical school is a little more high pressure than grade school (and I did not see anyone eating glue). We formed into a group of people who will fight for each other, who will provide any resources possible, and who will work hard and play hard. Our lovely little LC’s have become like small dysfunctional families, where we can go to get honest opinions (like it is probably time to shower) and a lot of support (with a small amount of bickering in the meantime). While it is extremely important to maintain our contacts outside of medical school, it is only our other first year friends who can fully understand what we are going through and will gladly share their IvaDean snacks when they know we are having a bad day.
As we move our way up from the bottom of the totem pole, we will continue to evolve in ways that bring us closer and closer to our goal of becoming top-notch physicians. Leaving first year is an accomplishment to be proud of. As this year’s first years make their way into our UCCOM community, we will be a source of knowledge and experience from whom they can learn. We have paid our first year dues and deserve to tell them what’s up – or at least get priority seating in the GI block. However, we should be cautious to never forget the innocence and naivety that we, too, had not so long ago—it is what will keep us forever willing to explore and put our faith in medicine.
Copyright © 2012 Mentis
About the Author:
Meredith Harris is a second-year medical student