There has always existed, deeply seeded beneath the surface of my conscience the burning question: where did all of the time go? I have asked myself that many times through my medical training. Now, standing at the threshold of my last semester as a student, the question is even more relevant. What have I been up to these past few months?
And just like that, year three passes into my memory, a destination in the rearview mirror. There has been so much to see, so much to process, so much to reflect on this entire year it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps we should go back to the beginning.
Over the past year, I have noticed a young man attending the barbershop I frequent. A tall and well-dressed adolescent who bared some resemblance to my barber, he initially started off with the scut work: sweeping the floor, greeting the customers, and watching. Always watching intently as my barber trimmed my hair.
Slowly, over time, he had begun to learn the tools of the trade - the different scissors and the brushes; the straight razor and the strop - and began to practice on the dummy heads.
Today, I went to the barbershop to find him cutting what must be his first set of heads full of hair. All the while, he was receiving pointers and tips from my barber, his father.
His eyes were focused, his body was tense, as he trimmed the weight from the man’s temple. Snip. Snip. As the locks fell to the floor, he re-examined his work. Was it too little? Was it too much?
“Remember to angle your brush up. It’ll give you more room to work with,” his father would say, and he would oblige and try again, with more angling of his left wrist. In the end, the older man seemed satisfied with the young man’s work. A sizeable tip came the trainee’s way, to which he hurriedly returned to the man.
“The cut is free. I’m still practicing.”
“You’re always going to be practicing. Besides, you’ve earned it. Keep the change.” The customer gathered himself and took his cane as he thanked the barber in training yet again. The young man was pleased.
“Next?” Of all the people waiting in the barbershop, no one took a second glance.
“Does your son know what he’s doing? I mean it’s a rookie cut,” came one snappy customer. No one moved. They wanted the expert, the experienced barber, the man who knew every bump under every patch of hair on their heads. They wanted his father. The brilliance of the man’s eyes that a moment ago seemed so alive, dulled. He put down the gown and reached for the broom.
“Sure, I’ll go,” I said, taking up his offer. He gave me a smile and motioned me to the chair. “Have a seat.”
I understood his plight. We were all in the same boat together. As learners, we depend on the good will of the people we see for us to gain experience, to be better, to become professionals. The process must start somewhere. It was time I returned this favour to another student.
“Caesar trim. Sides short. Front long,” his father called out.
“Thanks for giving me the opportunity.”
“No problem. We all have to start somewhere.”
Third year has been a year of firsts thus far. I have seen and learned a great many things. It has wowed me, excited me, frustrated me, exhausted me, saddened me, and disturbed me in my every day encounters. With half the year behind me now, I would like to talk about my experience.
I remember one of the first students I was training here. He was a journalist. Was a journalist for nearly thirty years. He well could have been my father at his age!
But he was still learning.
This is a profession where even the old dogs learn new tricks, where the learning does not stop until the day you stop working.
With two months to organize myself for the coming year, it has given me a lot of time to think about the last year. Three-eighths of the way, I gave a review of the first term of second year. Now, another term complete and having earned half my M.D. title, it feels right to write another summary.
Given that it is the largest organ by surface area, it was amusing to see dermatology condensed into a single week. I suppose once you know the ABCDEs of categorizing skin lesions, you are well equipped to handle any situation. However, sometimes lesions are vague or very similar in appearance to others. Land mine or dud? Tread carefully.
Then came the brain. Over a gruelling two month period, we explored the deepest anatomical corners of the brain, learned tracts from top to bottom, and studied behaviour and psychology. The challenges of this block were two fold. First, some of the concepts were difficult to abstract, especially understanding the relation and integration of various tracts, in itself a complex web of interactions. Secondly, due to the complexity of the brain, some concepts could not be covered without mentioning other points of interest that would be covered further in the block. It was constantly a struggle to keep up with concepts A and B, when concept B was to be further discussed a few weeks later. Only at the end of the block could we finally see the big picture.
After the struggles above, we went down into the reproduction block, a simple and easy to follow curriculum that was a welcome change of pace. This block was noteworthy for its overabundance of graphic pictures and videos and the fair warning to the ladies of our class to be weary of advanced maternal age.
The last block, following the reproductive block nicely was paediatric and adolescent development. The big talking points in this block were milestones and nutrition factoids. The key to understanding this block was to memorize the facts cold. Getting the short end of the stick, the study time for this block suffered in light of its close proximity to our final exams. We held our breath that the few factoids we tried to memorize each day would stay fresh enough in our minds for the exam.
Histology, pathology, and anatomy continued to be integrated into the curriculum wherever it applied. Anatomy in particular took centre stage for the brain, while histology was important for the skin, the brain, and for reproduction.
Family practice and clinical skills courses continued to give us exposure to the routines we would need to know for our careers.
The exams this term were again challenging. I would rank them as equal to those from last term. The questions that caused me the most difficulties were the scenario questions. Reading and digesting the information presented in the scenario took time and slowed me down to a panic. Time was of the essence and I had to work fast. I dreaded every one of these questions.
For my rural rotation, which is actually part of my third year, I have already written my thoughts on that in a prior post. Now I am just trying to get my affairs in order and enjoy the summer while I still can.
Two years of lecture-based medical education has come down to these last four weeks. I have sat in lectures for so many years now that it seems unreal that that reality will soon be coming to an end.
Following two weeks of exams, I will begin a one-month summer clerkship that is the stepping stone to third year, where the true medicine starts. The anxiety and excitement of change is slowly building up inside me. These are the final moments of another chapter in my story.