The Things You Learn In Medical School that Have Nothing to Do with Medicine (and Everything to Do with Life)

This is a guest post written by Leor Krichilsky.

With graduation approaching, people always ask me if it feels like the time has flown by. On the one hand, yes. It is surreal to think that in a few short months, I’ll be starting my first “adult” job and possibly leaving the Northeast for the first time.

However, on the other hand – no way! I’ve been in school for a long time. While I still feel like I know nothing, I have also learned a lot. In the time that other friends have started and completed graduate school, I have remained a med student. Some friends are on their third jobs post-grad, some are buying houses, some are engaged, and one even has kids. In the mean time, I continue to be a student and to be acquiring large amounts of debt.

So, why do we do this to ourselves?

Many can’t see themselves doing anything else. I actually could see myself in a few other careers, but I like to think that very few could give me what medicine has given me.

So, what does medical school teach you outside of medicine?

First year, I remember sitting in a large auditorium with 250 classmates for the first time. I remember feeling intimated in Anatomy lectures and seeing the “gunners” call out answers in class and thinking, “Why am I here?”

This feeling worsened after I, along with 50% of my class failed the first anatomy exam. I later learned this is called imposter syndrome and a large majority of my class had it. Sharing these feelings with each other brought a lot of us closer together and has made this process much more enjoyable.

You’re Still Allowed to Have Fun in Medical School

Years 1 and 2 included lots of long days of listening to lectures, re-listening to lectures while outlining them, and claiming our cubicles in the library. Thank goodness for good non-medical friends (to go to Atlantic City with or go four-wheeling with), good medical friends (my roommate and I quickly made our apartment the pregame spot) and for parents who cooked for me whenever I needed.

I learned that no one makes it this far without an awesome support system.

I also learned that despite the excessive amounts of information thrown at us, it’s still possible to work hard and have fun. It was in these years that my friends and I discovered El Vez (our margarita place) and Woody’s (our late night dancing spot).

You Will Push Yourself and Continue to Grow

It was also in these years that I saw an incision & drainage for the first time and almost passed out, then later saw a hysterectomy and praised myself for not passing out.

After second year, we all took our boards and likely experienced the worst anxiety of school. Studying for 6 weeks to take a test that determines our future, then to wait a month for the results is definitely not fun. Luckily, we all survived and moved on to the most challenging and interesting year yet – third year.

What My Rotations and Patients Have Taught Me About Life

I started my third year on oncology and learned that cancer patients don’t just deal with cancer – they also get pleural effusions and blood clots from their cancer.

On the liver service, I learned about medical ethics. Patients who need liver transplants because of alcoholic cirrhosis only qualify if they have been sober for 6 months. We had a man who had only been sober for 3, but based off of his MELD (Model for End Liver Disease) Score, he would die before 6 months time. Should the team give him that chance for a liver before reaching 6 months sobriety or let someone else who has remained sober but is less sick get it?

On Neurology, I learned how to insert an NG tube and use ultrasound to get IV’s on difficult veins. I learned how difficult it was to practice procedures on actual patients. I also met a patient with relapsing remitting MS who humbled me. She said, “I used to be angry about the MS. I thought, ‘Why me?’ But then, I realized the real question is, ‘Why not me?’” I hope to never forget her when I face problems in the future.

On OB, I teared up as parents saw their babies for the first time. Then, I held back the tears and delivered placentas to keep practicing. I also saw babies get delivered who did not cry right away and saw strips take a turn for the worse and moms who were set on vaginal deliveries get taken back for c-sections.

On family medicine, I saw patients feel defeated by their chronic disease. My perception of asthma changed forever. What I once thought was no big deal, just something that people occasionally need inhalers for, I realized could make a person depressed and sometimes even lead to intubations.

I learned that sometimes diseases control people, and not the other way around. I worked on ways to address these issues with patients and to treat mental health in addition to physical health.

On surgery, I remembered how we are all in this together, when a GI fellow came to observe a case and had me remind him how to scrub. People go separate ways in their training and sometimes forget things that we perceive as basic at the time. It was an important reminder.

I also learned what it means to wake up with a 4 on your alarm clock and then run to the hospital in paper-thin scrubs in January. I often stopped at Dunkin Donuts before pre-rounds and realized while I got to check in on patients at 4:50 AM, others got up this early to make me coffee. Another humbling reminder.

On rehab, I saw spinal cord injury patients adjust their goals of care and push one another in the gym.

On psych, I saw the deepest, darkest depression cases one could see- cases that failed every antidepressant in the pharmacy and sometimes even failed ECT (which, by the way, is not nearly as cruel as it is depicted in the movies).

On pediatrics, I met a teenage refugee who told me she had been raped in her home country. I was the first person who she had told.

These experiences continued into fourth year and will likely continue throughout the rest of my career. I learned more about working in a team with various specialties and various patient and family dynamics. I learned about humility and compassion. I also learned that it can be extremely difficult to hear about a girl who got raped and then go out for a family dinner to your favorite restaurant and act like nothing is wrong. However, it’s also hard to carry these stories with you all the time (so I began writing and at one point, spoke with a therapist).

How Medical School Has Given Me a New Perspective

Now, four years later, I am one week away from match. Sometimes, I get stressed about a long commute or an early alarm setting or life outside of medicine not always going as planned. Then, I remember how lucky I am – first, to be healthy, and second, to have the privilege to treat people who teach me every day not only about their disease process, but also about life and what life means to them outside of the walls of the clinic or hospital.

I hope, no matter where I end up, that I – along with others – can remember these stories and remember when bad things happen (Why not me?), when waking up early (others do too) and when forgetting how to do something, there’s no shame in asking the people around you.

It’s been quite an experience, but despite the long process and the massive debt, I could not be more grateful for it.

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