“What is it like to be a medical student?” “What does a typical day look like?” “How do you balance between school and having a life?”–these are questions that I often wondered and asked when I was still a pre-med student. Unsurprisingly, I still cannot answer these questions myself at this point. In fact, sometimes I have to remind myself that I am already a medical student and I marvel at the thought that I will (almost certainly) become a physician in a couple of years. In the past three weeks, there have been times when I felt overwhelmed with what is expected of me and there have been times when I felt motivated by other students, doctors and patients. A fellow first-year student told me today that we are so fortunate to be here in medical school and I couldn’t agree more. For this reason, I will try my best to share some empowering as well as memorable moments from these past weeks.
Freshman Picnic: Entering A Christian Community
I have been in Loma Linda two times in my life. The first time was for the application interview and my girlfriend’s family brought me here. The second time is when I flew into Ontario International Airport the morning before orientation day. I was in a strange place and part of me felt excited to be independent. I pride myself on being independent at a young age since I lived away from my family about one third of my life. I was eager to explore the neighborhood around me, find out the best place to get groceries, and meet new friends.
Later that day, I went to school to try on my white coat and attended the freshman picnic. When the picnic started with a prayer, I felt a sense of peace and familiarity knowing that I am in a Seventh-Day Adventist community. It was a bit of a shock to me because I did not know that praying in an unfamiliar place with a large group of unfamiliar people actually gives me a sense of belonging. This feeling tells me that I am in a unique medical school and it is such a blessing to be spiritually connected to my peers and the faculty.
The White Coat Ceremony
During the first day of orientation, we were introduced to policies and other logistics in the student handbook as well as the numerous clubs and organizations on campus. Once again, I felt like I was back in college freshman year when I had to learn the structure of a curriculum, what was required to obtain a degree, and all the resources available to make the best out of my education.
When the day came to an end, I was excited about the White Coat Ceremony in the evening. I had already told my family that the ceremony would be online so they could watch it even when they were in Taiwan. I also told my girlfriend and my best friend who are in Washington about the live stream and I was really happy to receive texts from them saying that they were watching the ceremony.
As we lined up on the sides of the chapel and waited for our names to be called, I trembled from excitement and nervousness. I even reminded myself to walk really carefully so I wouldn’t trip on the stage! When Dr. Hadley helped me put on my coat, I struggled a little, but fortunately it did not take a significant amount of time. As I looked into the crowd, I started to wish that my family in Taiwan was looking at me on the live stream. Unfortunately, they had just moved into a new apartment and did not have internet available yet. When we returned to the stage to take the Physician’s Oath, parents started taking pictures of the students on stage and I started imagining the proud and smiling faces of each of my family members, grandparents, girlfriend, and best friend. When I saw parents and siblings waving and smiling at us, I felt like I was seeing my own family waving at me. It sounds strange but it’s true!
Symbolically, the White Coat Ceremony is the beginning of our medical professional. It helps us realize that we have chosen a career path that requires tremendous dedication and our utmost moral standards. As we all solemnly recited the oath, I felt our vigor and enthusiasm radiate across the entire chapel. Our voices said “This is the moment we have been waiting for. Starting now, we go from being cared for to taking care of others. Our hands will heal others and our words will guide the lives of many. We joyfully take on the responsibilities bestowed upon us and we will follow the example of our teachers. We will exemplify a Christ-like character in our practice and minister to all those around us with compassion and humility.”
Ward Experience: Patient-Centered Care
For the next two weeks, I spent the morning at Riverside County Region Medical Center shadowing an internal medicine team. I was amazed by how much 3rd year medical students know and how fast they learn in their rotations. They were given a number of patients that they were in charge of and they worked up the patients during pre-rounds. Part of me looks forward to the day when I am as knowledgeable and skilled as them but part of me also wonders how I will get there. Nonetheless, my partner first-year student and I tried to be as helpful as we could by grabbing charts, getting order forms, printing patient notes out, offering to help, and by staying out of the way.
Oftentimes, we could help with patients’ needs just by noticing their requests or asking them. One time, a patient wanted to have the nurse help him turn over to the other side because he was getting uncomfortable. After I spoke to a nurse, I went back and told the patient that a nurse should be coming soon. He was quite happy and thanked me for me. A small amount of gratitude such as that made me so ecstatic and I just can’t wait to do more for patients.
One assignment we had was to interview patients, listen to their feelings, and find out how their illnesses influenced them. My partner and I spoke with two patients and prayed for them. Ever since the interview, we always greeted them when we had a chance. Before we left, my partner gave one of the patients a small stuffed teddy bear in a praying posture because she said she likes to pray. She smiled was so brightly that it warmed both of our hearts.
During the pre-rounds, I also saw a medical student on our team chat with his patient and I was able to see the patient in a completely different light. She usually seemed unwilling to talk because of her discomfort. However, in the pre-rounds, the medical student joked around and laughed with the patient and I found that she is actually quite humorous. She jokingly complained about things and swore in front of us, which I find very amusing. The medical student demonstrated that physicians can definitely ease the discomfort of patients and make sure their thoughts are heard. It also helps with their cooperation. I learned a lot from the Blue (ninja) team and have added a few more people to my list of role model physicians.
Special thanks to members of the Blue Team: Dr. Chitsazan, Dr. Lewis, Vu, Kenley, Genoveva, Juan, Tiffany, Marly, and Stewart.
Medical Strategic Network Practicum: Power of Listening
On the Friday of the second week, I attended the Medical Strategic Network practicum and I was able to begin learning how to practice whole person by listening to the spiritual well-being of two patients. As I sat in a dim room on the bedside of a patient, listening to him talk about his faith, I felt the light shining on him grew brighter and warmer. I noticed the times when his eyes grew misty and his voice seemed to almost choke up. Here is a man whose faith has carried him through difficult times and given him strength when he thought he would not make it. He expressed graciousness and thankfulness to God, and I realized that he was my teacher and I was his pupil. As I sat with him, he taught me the importance of having faith despite the circumstances, the power of being listened to, and the need for me to be humble and listen to what he had to say. It was an incredible experience and the deepest conversation I have had with a person who I do not know anything about. This speaks to the unique privilege that health care providers have and the incredible effect it has on people when we truly listen to thoughts that are otherwise never told to complete strangers.
Gross Anatomy: Bodies With Stories
Just this week, actual classes have started and the gross anatomy class has always been something that I had looked forward to early this summer. When it came time for anatomy lab, we were showed something during the orientation that always came up in my mind every time I see our cadaver. We were shown letters written by the donors and one of it read:
“I want you to know that am making my final gift to mankind and leaving it to you to ensure it is delivered. Please know that the bones, muscle, the tubes, cords, and organs within me did know love, pain, hardship, and joy. My eyes have seen the beauty of this world and my feet have crossed only a small portion of its mountains and streams. My hands both gentle and strong have tried to impart comfort to the world. I revel in the memories my mind has stored and I wish I would have used my lips to smile at a stranger or a loved one a bit more often…”
Upon reading this letter, I felt sad, as if I was the donor and the hands that I used to touch my loved ones and my feet that took me to places are to be reduced to cold anatomical terms. During the lab when I studied the muscles in the suboccipital region, I spent a few seconds each looking at the arms that are still slightly pink, her shoulder that is freckled and aged, and her scalp that was shaved. I remembered that she once was alive and her body still holds her life story. She is not just a cadaver, but a teacher who has dedicated herself in a way more than all my other teachers had and I am very grateful for that.
There are a lot of thoughts to be shared because being a “student physician” requires me to see people and lives so differently. This level of involvement is unprecedented, personally, and it makes me constantly evaluate myself and think about the kind of physician I want to be. So, after being a Loma Linda medical student for three weeks, I have felt a wide spectrum of emotions from admiration and enthusiasm to feeling overwhelmed and insignificant. As far as I can tell, each of these emotions is going to feel more intense down the road! But for now, first week of classes, check!