Talking to two individuals close to me, my girlfriend and my friend Serene (who is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Next Generation), I discovered two notions that I feel strongly about regarding the experience of first year medical students.
1) Cadaver donors give their gift to our future patients, not to us (the medical students).
My girlfriend, also a first-year medical student, is starting her Anatomy class tomorrow and asked me for advice about her plan to perform a small ceremony with a group of her fellow students prior to their first day of cadaver dissections. Traditionally, there is usually a memorial service at the end of each Anatomy course to honor and show gratitude toward those who donated their bodies to the cause of medical education. In reflecting on my own experiences and those of my classmates, however, I realized that people don’t donate their bodies for the sake of the students: instead, they donate their bodies so that other patients like themselves will have good doctors taking care of them. In a sense, we (as medical students and future doctors) are vessels or conduits for this gift, and in engaging in this anatomical education with the unique experience of being face-to-face with death and the dead on a daily, intimate basis for a time, we are silently pledging to carry this gift to those who will need it in the future. Although this experience may set us apart from others (and some may let it go to their heads), it only has meaning if we give it to others in the form of better medical care.
2) Medical students, before entering medical school, would best prepare themselves by making sure that they know how to connect with other people and be happy people.
Serene recently asked me what advice I would give to medical school applicants now that I’m in medical school but still have fresh memories of my entrance into this training and profession. My answer’s origins were in my reply to an early question of hers: what have I found most challenging about medical school thus far? While the academic coursework is obviously very challenging and demanding, I find that the greatest challenges for me involve reconciling all the other aspects of life with the substantial psychological, physical, and emotional commitment required for this training. We all bring with us things that we can’t leave behind, and all of those things we hold dear to us either compete with medical school for our time and energy or keep us healthy and replenished. In that respect, it’s important for incoming medical students to have healthy relationships: this gives them a strong ability to stay grounded, form new relationships, and be happy. Although medical schools probably try to select for good people, I suspect that they find a harder time selecting for happy people (or at least people who can make the best of a bad situation and stay optimistic). In my eyes, I think being happy (or at least satisfied) is an equal requirement to being a good person for becoming an effective and well-liked doctor.