Thursday, February 22, 2007

Third-Year Medical Students

A word about the medical student world we are living in now--with Justin and his classmates scheduled to become doctors in one year, three months and six days.

It's like we live with juniors in the high school honors program. Second semester honors juniors want to get perfect grades in all their classes, are studying for the SATs, talking about which colleges they want to apply to, which colleges their parents want them to apply to, which colleges their friends are applying to, and statistic strategies they (falsely) believe will help them get in. ("That Ivy League only takes this many kids from this competitive high school, and that other perfect kid over there is applying and so is her best friend, so I shouldn't even bother because I won't get in, but I heard this other student is not applying to that other school, so my chances are...") Watching those teenagers bounce around each other on a high school campus is like watching a popcorn-popper, the electrical kind from the '80s that had see-through plastic bodies, knowing some of the kernels are going to explode soon, and some of them will be perfect and completely popped and soft and delicious, some of them will still have a hard core, some of them will only open an ever so little bit, and some of them will not burst at all. Only you actually want popcorn to burst, whereas these kids... well you do want them to just grow up and get it over with. But you have to wait anyway. It doesn't just happen the second you decide you want popcorn.

The medical school students are wrapping up their first and only year of mandatory rotations--since June they have all had to do time in hospitals and clinics specializing in surgery, general medicine, ObGyn, psychiatry and family practice (this last one has gone on the whole time, one afternoon a week, while they rest are about one or two months each).

Outsider's favorite question to ask a medical school student is, "What are you going to specialize in?" I suppose they believe they're making polite conversation by engaging the other person in conversation about that other person, just like when they wanted to talk to me about the public education system, or tell me stories about their old high school English teachers. (Universally older than me, crusty in fact, never pretty, though alternately mean and worthless or inspirational.)

For the first two years the medical students either had meaningless answers: (Dad's a surgeon, so they believed they would be too, and said "surgery." Or they watched a lot of ER and wanted to be ER docs. Or they liked kids so they wanted to do pediatrics. Or they wanted a good lifestyle, so they liked dermatology.)

And then this wretched third year began.

They found out surgery was gruelling. They realized the ER is packed with drunks, drug addicts and people without health insurance who have the flu and they don't particularly like having to deal with the people who are all strung out and combative, despite the 4 day weeks and 12 hour days. They realized kids come with parents and parents with kids are annoying. They worry that dermatology might be boring and found out about other specialties where you actually get to go home and don't have to carry a pager.

They have no idea what they want to do. And every one of them that I have spoken to believes that they should know what they want to do. What's more, they believe that everyone else knows what they want to do.

And we "happy marrieds" or "old fogies" (depending on the night) have to listen to it, knowing that where ever our partners end up, so shall we. We can only hope that where they go we can find work, we can be happy, we like the weather. And I really don't want to live in the South. I cannot live in the South. I've been there. My dark skin, my love for all people (including gays! and other non-white-so-called-Christian-right(eous) people!) and my outspokenness about this love would do me in. I'd be in constant Moral Combat. They'd probably drive us out of town. Even in a big city like Atlanta I've been actual witness to the use of the word "nigger" in casual conversation and listened to a tour guide complain about having a woman mayor. I'd rather die than live in the South.

I keep telling the medical students who talk to me that the whole point of this year is figuring out what they want to do--that's why they get to try all those different specialties. It's like a medicine buffet. You take a little of everything the first time around, and then go back for seconds of the stuff you really liked. And then, when we are fortunate enough to get around each other in a social environment (like my art show!) they realize that they are not alone in their insecurities, and we spouses look at each other with "I will survive" in our eyes. The conversation changes every hour. They'll be surgeons, no, maybe public health workers, no, maybe radiologists, no, ER wasn't that bad.

I told Justin, that one day when we got to have dinner together at a restaurant and talk about stuff other than the logisitics of our week, that he should pick something that he really likes. That he should not consider so much the hours, because since we've decided not to have children it's not so important that he's available to do stuff like coach soccer or attend ballet recitals, and I like doing my own thing--as long as he lets me do it without expecting me to rush home if he happens to have some time off when I already have something planned. So of course he likes orthopaedic surgery the best. This is no huge surprise. He likes exacting work. He likes putting stuff back together. He gets to work with power tools. He gets to see results. But then we remembered he can't actually stand for that long because of his own orthopaedic injury--half a foot left behind after a USMC boat propellar chopped it off in 1996 and we can't regularly take walks because of that damn war machine. (Though when would we do that?) But he could be a hand surgeon--they sit because it's so precise (and his eyes light up) and a surgeon has already gone and told him he "has good hands."

So I'm destined for a life alone a lot of the time. Which would be OK if we got a housekeeper. (A woman's version of having a wife is getting hired help.)

These next three months will be fascinating. The kernels will start popping, instead of just jumping around in the oil with anticipation. At least some of the kids have the sense to know they can change their minds (as I always told the high school kids they can transfer colleges, and they're only deciding where they'll spend the next four years of their lives, not their whole entire lives). We'll keep having the same conversation, to which we listen a little and also just let the words roll by as our minds drift away while we attentively, compassionately watch our lovers and friends roll over and over in their minds.

And sometimes we'll say, "Ugh. Will you just let it go. You'll figure it out when you figure it out. Let's talk about something else. Like art. Or Hillary and Barrack Obama. Or the weather. Or how we'll spend your next Golden Weekend." Four days off in a month. One whole weekend, one Saturday, one Sunday. These days need to be fully appreciated or they just disappear and you start to forget who you married. (Not that it's Justin Anderson, but who the heck is in that body that drifts in and out of the house while you sleep.)

Their applications are due September 1. They'll rank their favorite choices and the med schools will rank who they want. And then on Match Day in the spring (March? May?) there will be champagne and revelry and tears, and God willing we will end up in San Diego, San Francisco, or Chicago, Boston, or New York City.

In the mean time, I know I have a summer ahead of me of editing essays and summarizing lives into 400 words or 650 or 6000 characters-not-including-spaces.

I just hope they have the sense to relax once they've sent their applications out. It's out of their hands at that point, so maybe we can just get a drink and chill and enjoy the weather.

1 comment:

OakMonster said...

San Diego. SAN DIEGO!!!!!

Brandon won't go to Hippytown or the Big Apple. So, you MUST stay in San Diego. Please!!!