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An Apology to a Medical Student

Created July 31, 2017 by Karen Tran-Harding

Dear medical students: I’m sorry.

You had just finished two years of didactic learning and couldn’t wait to feel like a “real” doctor. You finally were starting your clerkships, that is, finally working with patients and getting deep in the trenches.

You were bright eyed as you pulled on your pristine short white coat. You got to the hospital at 5:15 AM, 15 minutes early for the first day of your very first third year clerkship in OB/GYN. You were so ready. Your medical school colleagues had told you what to expect: you would meet your new team of doctors that you will be joining, helping with the diagnosis and management of patients. Maybe they’ll even let you assist in delivering a baby!

You finally approach the workroom where you were told to find the residents. You prepare to introduce yourself – this was important as these people will evaluate you and be your peers for the next 4 weeks. You are so nervous as the room seems so daunting.

“Hi, I’m the medical student!” you say with cheer and a big smile to the room.

Silence. No one bothers to look up for their computers as they furiously type away.

Over the next few weeks, you always acted engaged and excited about all that you were witnessing. You always knew all the details about your patients and when asked “pimp” questions, you were always able to answer them. Yet sometimes everyone will rush out of the room without saying a word to you and you won’t realize what happened until someone mentions that room 230 just delivered. You once asked a great question about pre-eclampsia but the resident just snapped at you. You were so excited to see your first C-section but once you made it to the operating room, you felt so clumsy getting on your sterile gown and gloves because no one had time to tell you what you were supposed to do. Or you will often just sit in silence in the workroom because everyone is too busy to talk to you.

On the last day of your rotation, all the residents rush to Mrs. Smith’s room as her baby is starting to crown. This was a quick labor as this is her third child. The resident runs to the drawer to look for sterile gloves but there aren’t any. She sighs and realizes there would be no time for that. But then she turns around and there you are with an open pack of sterile gloves in her exact size. You had run to grab them outside the room because you noticed another resident mention the gloves needed to be restocked in that room at an earlier delivery.

Dear medical students, I’m sorry there were many moments when you were ignored. I’m sorry sometimes we the residents were so stressed out that we forgot to tell you to come with us to the delivery. I’m sorry that there was a really cool congenital lung finding on the CT scan but I didn’t even bother to call you over when you were just sitting silently just hoping that someone would acknowledge your existence.

I’m sorry I often came off as mean and snippy sometimes. I was just so stressed out by the pressure I was under keeping patients alive that it just came out that way. Add that to lack of sleep and maybe even lack of a real meal in 5 days. Residency is just so long and seems never-ending at times. It was never, ever personal.

Your time on the clerkship gave me the best histories and physical exams. You were always a welcoming ray of sunshine and optimism even if it didn’t feel that way. Mrs. Smith complimented you to me by the way – because you went back to her room a few hours after the delivery to check on her and see her baby.

I finally saw you in your long white coat the other day. And guess what? You were laughing and walking with the medical student. You looked over, saw me, and smiled.

Dear medical student: thank you for forgiving me.

About the Author
Hailing from Orange County, California, Karen Tran-Harding is a radiology resident at the University of Kentucky that found love, education, 1.5 residencies, and two corgis in the heart of the bluegrass.

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