Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from undergradute, graduate school, medical school, residency and beyond.

Doctor of Medicine

It had been four long years yet I remembered the first day of orientation as if it were yesterday. On that first day, the Dean of Student Affairs called our names. I sat among 125 people who were to become my brothers and sisters over the next four years. The day had started with a breakfast and check-in where we received our little name tags that certified that we belonged there.

I had finished up some paperwork and needed to drop it off in the Administration building so I treked over to this building before my “orientation”. When I passed the Office of Admission, I saw five people sitting there with papers in hand. It occured to me that they were waiting to see if any of us did not show up and that they might slide into our seats. I spoke to one of the gentlemen who was sitting there with his father. He said that he was on the waitlist and that he didn’t see where he could lose anything by coming here today to see if he could snag a seat. He looked at my nametag and said that he guessed that he wouldn’t be getting the one that I held.

One by one, the Deans introduced themselves and gave some words of encouragement. We would be the second class of the new century. We would be molded and shaped into caring physicians who would be on the frontlines of cutting edge healthcare. We were told that for everyone of us standing there, twenty five people wanted to be in the same position. It was heady stuff for some of us who just wondered if we really wanted to be physicians after all. It still wasn’t too late to back out and give that young man over at the administration building my seat in medical school.

The doubts took a back seat to all of the preparations. We were photographed (official IDs) and picked up our microscopes, lockers and slide boxes. We also received our syllabi for our first semesters classes. The syllabi were thick and heavy. I also met my “big sib” who was a second-year student who presented me with every one of her books from first year, her notes and used syllabi (all filled in) and her old exams. She said that her apartment was tiny and that she knew that these things would help me. In retrospect, she was my savior that day. I ended up not having to purchase anything for the first day of class except a heavy sweatshirt (The AC was freezing even though the outside temp was broiling).

My big sib walked me through the first semester pointing out every pitfall. She gave me strategies for doing well in every course (especially Anatomy) and reviewed her system for mastery of first year. Others in her class did much of the same when we had our first class meeting. I ended up taking the job of running the noteservice since I had been a graduate student and had some experience with getting volumes of notes out. It turns out that my notes are still used at our medical school especially the physiology notes. I became infamous.

The first day of orientation went by and the first day of classes went by and the first semester of medical school went by. Thanks to my big sib, I had done well and survived. The first two years went by and then the first rotation went by and soon medical school went by. I found myself standing in line wearing my black robe with doctorial hood (draped over my arm) and my doctorial hat trimmed in green complete with gold tassle. I was about to graduate and become a Doctor of Medicine.

We marched into the graduation hall (to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance) that was packed with family and visitors. My father who had been a physician had died before I had applied to medical school. He always knew that I would be a physician even though I had stubbornly refused to consider medicine as a career. I had been a research scientist because I wanted to discover new truths. Little did I know but medicine was about truth every day.

My uncle, who had been an Batallion Surgeon in the Korean War, placed the hood over my head. He stood at his finest military attention as he and the Dean pronounced that I was now a Doctor of Medicine. I distinctly remember a chill as my name was pronounced with “Doctor” in front of it. I was so different from that woman who stood in orientation on that first day with fleeting thoughts of giving up my seat in medical school.

When the ceremony was over, I looked at my degree (the thing is huge) which was written in Latin. I still have to look at it from time to time to convince myself that I had actually finished four years of medical school. All of the tests and all of the experiences had molded me into to a newly minted physician. I had two months to move and get ready for internship (the time of my life).

When I think back over some of the things that got me through medical school: First, I don’t complain. Complaining doesn’t get the problem solved and only prolongs the agony. I identify the problem and think of several solutions. I never present a problem without presenting at least two solutions as I see them.

Second, medicine is very difficult and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Nothing good comes without sacrifice and struggle. This job is a day to day learning experience that never ceases to amaze me. I often feel as if I have a “window on the world” as I treat every patient. My patients have been my teachers and my links to all humanity.

Third, any medicine is always my job. When a colleague drops the ball, I pick it up as quickly as I can. When something is not done, I get that something done as quickly as possible. We are here for the patients and not for ourselves. Instead of getting angry, I get busy and get the patient taken care of. I practice medicine because I WANT to practice medicine. The patient comes to the hospital because the NEED to come to the hospital. I have the choice, the patient does not have a choice. On my service and in my practice, there is no room for laziness or excuses. Things have to be done and on my watch, they GET done because after all, I am their “Doctor of Medicine”.


30 December, 2006 - Posted by | graduation, medical school, orientation


  1. Want to give my sincerest thanks for making this website and spreading your words of wisdom to us prospective medics – reading some of your articles in one evening have helped to dispel wonderings and doubts I’ve had about going to med school. I myself am 16, in UK. Just one thing I didn’t quite pick up – are you in the UK or USA?

    Comment by AdiLiv | 31 January, 2010 | Reply

  2. beautiful post, gave me the chills.
    May I ask when it was that you came to the realization that you DID want to go to medical school after all?
    Also, could you tell us about your interview process for surgery residency as a non-trad?
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Comment by Jacqueline | 4 January, 2007 | Reply

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