“Is that her femoral artery?”
I met my lover late one night,
Stethoscope on my chest, BP cuff on my right,
And as he held my hand, on his resident’s command,
He summoned up all his might -
“I’m a doctor-in-training”, he said,
Resting his body against my bed
“And is it too soon to make you swoon?
Because I know we’ve just met -
But you make my heart thump so hard
That cardiac arrest is on the cards,
Fast my blood flows for my soul knows
That true love has caught me off-guard.”
What was there to say but yes?
To a lack of experience he had confessed,
Yet I was fine with the nerdy pick up lines
Because for me adoration he had professed -
But he’s rare with actual compliments
Instead choosing to thank my ‘rents
For their chromosomes, their centrosomes
…I think good will was meant?
And even when he finds the right words
It sounds completely absurd
To hear “My dear, your telomeres
They have never faltered!”
All my girlfriends think I’m single
Because I never bring him out to mingle -
He works long hours, rarely showers,
And in small talk, the only lingual
Skills he has pertain to nerves of the tongue,
And if there’s pathology he has the lungs
To speak and speak for a more than a week,
As if other meddies he were among!
Surgery sets his heart on fire
More than my wanton desire,
Causing a fuss with his bloodlust
Whenever I want my body admired,
So when he’s making love to me,
I know he’s thinking of anatomy
Not what goes where, or how he fares,
But is that her femoral artery?
“Found it!” he cries instead of my name,
As if our activity is not a game
Of take-a-peek but hide-and-seek
Where physiology is the aim!
Still I know he’ll never cheat
Because he never has the time to meet
Another girl to take for a whirl,
And besides, I know I have them beat
With my ample mitochondria, cranial hypertrophy,
A million neurotransmitters and long phalanges -
Subcutaneous tissue, it’s never an issue;
So I’ll let him study our mutual biochemistry
Because he gives me atrial fibrillation,
Ventricular contractions and palpitations,
Every single date my muscles fasciculate,
Forever he’ll be my doctor, and I, his patient.
[An old poem I had lying around. It never fails to amuse me.]
- You will look like a pretentious twit. But before you cry out, consider the model of socialisation familiar to first years and anyone cramming for final exams. Acting like a doctor is a crucial step to becoming a doctor, and House and Dr Cox are doctors who are also pretentious. Therefore, in order to become a doctor, you must wear your stethoscope out in public.
- Doctors get upgraded to business class when flying. How else will the flight attendants be aware of your pending-doctor status if you don’t wear your steth?
- There’s scope for, ahem, roleplaying.
- Think of the pick-up lines. “Excuse me miss, but you just made my heart skip a beat. Care to hear?” “I’m offering free health checks to all attractive males… and you most certainly qualify.”
- If you plan on going into surgery or psychiatry, this may be the only opportunity you get to wear your stethoscope. How many surgeons have you seen wear a stethoscope on ward rounds?
- “Stand back, I’m a doctor” sounds much more impressive if you look like one. And no one will question your doctor qualifications if you’re wearing a stethoscope.
- It’s a great party trick. In fact, the last two parties I’ve been to, I’ve whipped out my pretty little stethoscope and conducted full cardiovascular examinations on my friends. Not only do they get free healthcare, but it makes you seem super intelligent because you can tell them that their hearts are normal.
- Eavesdropping. Forget holding glasses up to walls or casting listening charms—if your friends are having a super secret conversation next door, you can simply hold your stethoscope to the wall and listen to all the dirty gossip.
- It’s great revision for clinical exams. If you’re wearing your stethoscope on a long train trip back from the country, imagine how many times you can listen to your heart and lungs. You’ll be a pro at identifying normal breath sounds by the end of it—and if you’re game, you can always practice on the other passengers. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
- Hitting someone with a stethoscope hurts. Therefore, wearing your stethoscope on those long walks between hospitals, residential colleges, and sophisticated drinking establishments means you always have a weapon on hand should you find yourself in less-than-pleasant company.
Please note, this is an entirely facetious list. Don’t wear your stethoscope outside the hospital, please.
I saw a little band named fun. on Friday night.
And between the shuffling to try and get a good vantage point (I’m really short, okay?), one thought kept popping into my head: I wish I’d paid more attention to the moments that didn’t matter.
I get caught up in med school. I do the unforgivable, I place my self-worth and self-belief in the feedback I receive until it’s late at night and I’m alone with my thoughts that tell me it’s not worth it, nothing’s worth it. My life becomes a series of achievements which I’ve failed to meet: didn’t clerk enough patients, didn’t do enough research, didn’t impress the doctors enough, didn’t know enough.
So, being the ever-composed medical student that I am, I started crying during the encore.
We fight and fight for med school. Our entire lives revolve around being a doctor. Getting the marks to pass, to get an internship, to get into specialty training, to pass our exams: when does it stop? In the grand scheme of all things med school, these moments matter. But are they more important than the moments that don’t matter, the moments that pass us by?
I look back on this year so far and I see loss. I see three overdoses, two psychiatrists, a psychologist. I see disordered eating, I see hiding in tutorial rooms, too afraid to deal with people. I see a failed assignment, questions I couldn’t answer, laying in bed with my heart racing out of time, scared of waking up in the morning and going back to the hospital.
But then there are nights spent at concerts, driving around the city at three am looking for food, falling asleep on a friend’s floor. Days spent dancing with hand puppets and baking scones.
Moments which don’t matter to med school. Late-night Facebook chats won’t get you a career.
But these moments will help us survive med school.
This is fun. Photo primarily included because the lead singer is the cutest thing I’ve ever encountered.
I’ve spent the last few weeks on psychiatry placements. It’s been crazy, confronting, and not the ideal place to be when you’re struggling with your own mental health issues.
A friend was telling me about her psychiatry placement recently, and the way she spoke indicated how much it had affected her. She’s normally very giddy and very child-like, but when she talked of her patients, she was solemn and soft-spoken. She told me this story weeks and weeks after she’d met this particular patient—she hadn’t been given a chance to debrief.
That’s when it struck me. As medical students, we’re given little, if any, support. We see the best and the worst of the human experience on the wards. We see mothers give birth, but we also see parents lose children. We watch as people are given hope, but we also see them lose it. We’re allowed to read the stories of our patients’ lives, but they don’t always have a happy ending.
This isn’t to say med school is bad. But without support, it can be devastating. There is a reason why medical staff have higher rates of mental illness, of substance abuse, of suicide, compared to most of the general population. Perhaps this predisposition towards insanity is exactly what makes for a good medical student: we’re perfectionists, we’re people-pleasers, we’re somewhat masochistic with our long days and even longer nights, notes sprawled across our desks.
I believe that we need to promote wellbeing in the medical culture. I believe that, as medical students, as healthcare students in general, we need a place where it’s okay to talk about patient experiences and the emotions they inspired. We need to make it okay to cry after a long day of observing life and death within hospitals. Self-care needs to be something that is taught alongside clinical placements, not as a tokenistic gesture in the pre-clinical years.
I know that getting up tomorrow and attending to the psychiatric wards will be a battle. I know that talking to the patients will be triggering, and it will be hard to hear their stories. But if I walk out to my car on the verge of tears, and breakdown on the drive home, I know that’ll be okay. Because it’s okay to be affected by your patients. It’s okay to need to talk and to be emotional. It’s okay to take a night off studying if you find yourself needing to get away from medicine for a few hours.
Take care of yourselves out there.
Truth: most of my friends will be graduating from med school next year.
I won’t be. Despite having (almost) four years of university under my belt, the very notion of being a doctor terrifies me.
Instead of doing my final year, I’ll be doing a research year. With a bit of luck, I’ll be doing something in paediatric psychiatry, looking at somatisation disorders.
Deep down, I know I’m not ready to graduate. I’m not ready to take on the big bad world, and that’s okay. I turn twenty-two this year, but I feel as if I’m only beginning to come into my prime—I’ve only had my driver’s licence for three months. I’m only beginning to get proper treatment for what has been an eight-year battle with depression and anxiety and possibly borderline personality disorder. I’m only starting to work out who I am and what I want and I know that I’m still a couple of years away from being comfortable enough to say I’m a doctor.
Being a doctor is hard work. Long hours, overtime, and your work never leaves you. I come home from placement and think endlessly about the cases I’ve seen, if there was anything we missed, how I need to improve. And then there’s being an adult as well—budgets. Cleaning. Laundry. Remembering to send birthday cards. Plus there’ll be studying for places in specialty training schools and constantly keeping up with the new developments in medicine.
I’m not ready for that. I spent most of my high-school and early university years avoiding people and relationships, finding myself unsteady on my feet. I don’t want to be like that as a doctor. I don’t want to be an adult without ever experiencing what it’s like to be a young person. I want to have late nights and do silly things and achieve my non-medical dreams. I want to have a life before I settle down to be a doctor.
It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with this. Part of me believes it’s trivial to put my medical career on hold so I can write novels and ethics proposals. But on the other hand, I don’t want to be dead before thirty. I want to be well enough to survive medicine. Yes, I’m afraid, but at the same time, I’m proud of myself.
I’m more than medicine, and I hope you are too.
Last week, I spent a few hours in a palliative care unit.
As medical students, we’re fixated on the living. What drug can cure that symptom. How surgery can remove the cancer. Where we can find a bed so that the patient with diabetes can have her complications managed.
Rationally, we know that everyone dies. We dissect cadavers in our anatomy classes. We read about fatal diseases in our textbooks and see pictures of brain tumours and mangled hearts cut open.
But still, we believe we can save everyone.
The last patient we saw was a little old lady, pictures of her family on a pinboard next to her bed, fresh flowers on her bedside table. A blanket was drawn to her chin, and she smiled at everyone in the room, desperate for some recognition of her existence. I don’t know how much she knew about her prognosis; I doubt she knew what the doctors thought yet.
To me, she looked well. To me, she didn’t look like a woman predicted to die within a fortnight.
I couldn’t look many of these patients in the eye as I walked through the wards, all I could say was a muttered thank you as I left one patient to attend to the next. I didn’t know what to say. I’m lucky. I haven’t experienced much death in my life. I’m yet to see a patient die or a patient code. I know these to be inevitabilities, but I still look at each patient with hope.
Perhaps the hope to live isn’t universal. Perhaps, for those for whom death is imminent, the hope to live is replaced by the hope to die peacefully, in a way that is the least confronting and the least horrifying for their loved ones. Perhaps they want to stay as calm as possible, as coherent as possible, and without the pain that has plagued them for their entire illness.
Perhaps medicine isn’t about operations and pharmaceuticals. Maybe it’s just about helping patients and their bodies survive, and die, in peace.
- Donate blood. One blood donation saves three lives. (In Australia, we’re not paid to donate, but I understand this is different in some countries. Regardless, giving blood makes a difference, and not enough people do it.)
- Become an organ donor. You don’t even have to donate your whole body—you can select to donate certain parts if you need to keep your body intact for religious or cultural beliefs.
- Volunteer. Okay, so maybe volunteering won’t save lives (unless you volunteer as a first aider), but it will definitely make the world a happier, shinier place.
- Keep yourself well. As a medical student, the most important life you can save is your own. Engage with your peers. Take a walk outside. Try not to drink too much coffee (I know it’s hard, and that caffeine is liquid gold. But have you ever had eight cups of coffee before a clinical exam? Because you shouldn’t. If your heart rate is 130 bpm and you’re trying to interview a patient, you know you’re going to have problems). Have fun occasionally. Watch Grey’s Anatomy without feeling the need to comment on the fact that Izzie wears her stethoscope backwards or bemoaning the fact that surgeons are rarely as hot as McSteamy.
- Help the nurses on clinical placement. Sure, the doctors prescribe drugs and write management plans. But in hospitals, the only reason anything ever gets done is because we have amazing nurses. Ask if you can follow a nurse around for a shift. Not only will you get a work-out, but you’ll appreciate the sheer amount of work they do. And most nurses have brilliant communication skills—you’ll learn a lot. And even little things, like settling a baby while a nurse is tending to another patient or offering to find the doctors and get them to chart drugs for a patient can make a huge difference.
- Speak up. Do you think the registrar has missed something? Ask them if it they think it’s important. I was in ED the other night, and a girl was seizing and had a rash over her eye, and my reg hadn’t commented on it, so I asked if it was of significance. It wasn’t, but the reg explained to me what she was actually looking for.
- Talk to patients. Again, maybe you won’t directly save a life. But have you ever been in hospital? It’s a lonely place. Not all patients get flowers and family visiting them. Not all patients have friends to drop by and say hi. Approach them. Ask if you can clerk them. Ask them how they are. Go and say goodbye when they’re discharged. Smile at them. It might make a world of difference to someone.
- Take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Not everything your supervisors say will be right. Always double-check drug dosages.
- Learn because you enjoy what you’re doing. If you learn because you have to, or because you have to be a doctor, not because you want to, you’re doing yourself and your patients a great disservice. Not everything in medicine will be enjoyable. But my colleague gave me some great advice yesterday: “I used to take copious notes during every lecture, but I wouldn’t learn anything. The next semester, I brought a coffee to every lecture, sat back, and let myself enjoy what was happening. Sure, it was more work and I had to make my own notes later, but I learnt things better.” Engage with your learning. Approach everything with an open mind and fascination.
- Dream. Imagine what you could do and how you might change the world. It may be naive, but this is the greatest strength of being a student—we haven’t yet been jaded by the system. We can still find ourselves inspired by medicine—and from this, innovation is born.
Anonymous asked: hi… i’m a firstie and all this studying is getting a little bit over my head, i don’t know whether i should study anat, or physio or bio-chem, how many hours would be enough or whether i would understand certain topics if i don’t know the topics related to it. i am soooo confused. what’s an ideal time table n good habits for medical students to follow?
The first year of med school is always the scariest. There’s so much to learn and it’s completely different to anything else and it all feels out of context. Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula for studying medicine. (I wish there was. My life would be so much easier if I could learn via diffusion.)
- Aim to do a little bit of studying each day, even if it’s just revising notes from the afternoon’s lectures or reading some anatomy. Little things add up, and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.
- Flashcards are great for rote learning. I swore by flashcards when I was learning sociology and key symptoms, and you can pull them out at any time. I was clearly the coolest kid in surgery last year, whipping out my flashcards between cases.
- Use colours. Bright colours can make even the most boring of notes more exciting. (I currently take a subject regarding administration in health care. I can only make myself study it because I’m allowed to use pretty colours for the titles.)
- Diagrams and pictures! Anything that is conducive to being in a flow-chart or diagram should be. It forces you to think about the information, and makes a great revision tool come exam time.
- If you are going to highlight, write notes in the margins to summarise, otherwise you’re going to have to read the text again.
- Have a to-do list and set deadlines (realistic deadlines, of course). Nothing gives you a greater sense of achievement than crossing something off your to-do list.
- Give yourself a break occasionally. Go watch Scrubs. It technically counts as studying, right?
- Talk about what you learn. Teach your goldfish anatomy. Interpret blood films for your computer screen. Get your friends to test you and have debates over the ethical issues of medicine.
Those would be my tips for studying medicine—also, these are the things I wish someone had told me in first year. I almost failed my first mid-semester exam in med school because I had no idea what to study or how to do it, so I really hope these help you!
See the previous post here.
Anonymous asked you: hi, it’s me again. maybe i don’t have depression. maybe i’m just.. deficient in coping with things. i’m not happy with how i’m handling problems- i’m a pro at running away and freaking out later. is a simple thing such as random tears, negative thoughts and inability to handle daily stresses a warning sign big enough for a visit to the doc? i keep thinking and worrying about flunking, about dropping medschool….
Dear anonymous (and to anyone else experiencing a similar situation),
The short answer is yes, you are completely justified in seeking help. I need both hands and both feet to count the number of times I’ve seen doctors and counsellors and psychologists because I wanted to drop out of med school, because I felt like I wasn’t coping, and damn it, everyone around me was doing so well.
Let’s be honest—med school is hard. I remember sitting in a lecture in second year, watching all the other students around me, and they were in perfect control of med school. They sat through lectures without falling asleep and without panicking about exams in two months and without being afraid of being judged, they took notes studiously and went home to their friends and family and lovers and siblings and maintained healthy relationships and seemingly flawless grades. It felt like I was the only one in a hall of hundreds of students that didn’t know how to make it through med school.
I spent an entire semester avoiding lectures and other students and hiding in the library because I thought I was crazy.
There’s something no one ever tells us about med school, and it’s this: we’re all struggling. I was having coffee with a colleague the other day, and he started to explain to me his struggles with depression, his excessive alcohol intake at the start of med school—and this is someone I’d always looked up to. Someone who, in my opinion, checked all the boxes: intelligent, kind, funny, surrounded by family and friends. And yet, he was someone struggling through med school as well. Very few med students wear their hearts on their sleeves—that’s why I keep this blog somewhat anonymous, because I’m still learning to let myself be vulnerable.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you’re not alone, and med school has the ability to make us our own worst enemies. But, at the same time, it doesn’t have to be the end of you. You don’t have to try and cope with these thoughts and feelings and fears alone. You, and every other medical student, every other health care student, every other person in general, are entitled to help and to have what’s going on validated. I can’t diagnose you with depression over the internet (or without a qualification of some sort), but whether you meet the criteria or not is irrelevant. You are allowed to seek help. You are allowed to talk to a professional and you are allowed to let them help you.
Please don’t struggle alone. Med school has no right to make you feel this way.
Take care of yourself and I hope you seek some help—talk to your family doctor or to your university health department.
My Life As A Med Student.
The second in a two part series entitled why they never should have let me pass pre-clinical years. This is also why I’m a medical student and not an artist.