Posts tagged education

The First Week: Thoughts on Being a Doctor

Today marks the end of my first week as a doctor. To say the least it has been exciting, interesting, but above all, scary.

I have hit the ground running here, starting my first rotation in internal medicine. The days thus far have been long, hard, and busy. Everything feels more real, more high stakes; after all, I am now the one who needs to make the decision overnight. 

However, every resident feel like this when they begin practice. What I would like to share instead are some of my other experiences:

  • People are addressing me as doctor: This continues to feel very out of place to me. While I now do refer to myself this way, I still ask people to address me as Tom.
  • I can give verbal orders over the phone: As a medical student, I was never allowed to give a verbal order over the phone. In order to start investigations or medications, I always had to go to the ward and write it myself. Not anymore.
  • What orders should I give over the phone?: While I used to have time to think on my way to the ward as well as the luxury to phone the resident for approval, this is no longer the case. I cannot emphasize enough how awkward it is to be asked for directions on the spot. “Can I call you back?” or “Let me lay eyes on the patient first.” are my go-to phrases now.
  • Accepting my orders as they are: On very few instances when a pharmacist is on hand, no one has questioned my orders. It is a scary burden to carry as a new resident. “Is what I am about to order safe?” Unfortunately, no switch flips on in our head when we become a resident, granting us all the knowledge and competence we need to make these decisions on our own. Even for some of my simpler orders, I still run them by my senior resident first.
  • The work does not change: Honestly, while the responsibilities have increased, the work we must do is the same. That also means that time for sleeping, eating, and peeing is still at a premium. Already, I have done a 36 hour straight call shift. And more are to come I am sure.
  • Billing: I never had to learn about earning money as a medical student but now it is part of my daily life. The flip side to doing all of the clinical work is all of the paperwork, now billing included.

There are still two years ahead of me in this residency and much to learn, see, and do. Expect more thoughts on this transition in the future.

Why You Are Still Alive - The Immune System Explained by Kurzgesagt.

Four Stages of Competence

In the 1970s, Noel Burch described four stages of learning any new skill and it could be summarized as follows:

  • Unconscious incompetence, where one does not recognize a deficit;
  • Conscious incompetence, where one does recognize a deficit and how to improve their skill;
  • Conscious competence, where one is competent but requires concentration to perform the skill, and;
  • Unconscious competence: where the skill has become second nature.

Everyone strives for unconscious competence. The mastery of a skill has become so complete that you can do it effortlessly. The scariest state to be in is the first stage. “You do not know what you do not know.” That can be a terrible position to be in, especially when a patient’s life is on the line.

That is why receiving feedback is so important. That is why we train for so many years, under the watchful eye of so many experts to be a master of the craft. Sometimes, in order to make that transition to the next step of our competency, it requires someone else to point out where we need help.

MD: A Degree in Review

It still shocks me that I am only a few days away from beginning my residency. Four years have come and gone. I now have a degree and letters behind my name to show for it. This last year has presented with its own unique challenges and a lot has changed in four years. Let’s have a look back.

Year One

It was here that I first learned how to correctly use my stethoscope, how to speak with patients, and how to act like a doctor. These were my baby steps. I studied a whole host of topics, covering the broadest and biggest organ systems. It was also here that I learned anatomy and had the privilege to work with cadavers. 

Year Two

In many respects this was the most stressful year. While clinical work is taxing in its own right, nothing came close to the mental toll this year had on me. Studying was both a necessity and a compulsion. Easily I spent entire days sitting a library, reading, memorizing, understanding. I had never studied that much in my entire life.

Year Three

This time, the stresses of clinical work were balanced between the mental and the physical. By far the most challenging year of all but also the most enjoyable. Having sat in class for the better part of my life, now I would have to do.

It was an adjustment to work in a hospital, to see volumes of patients, to do call shifts. But I adjusted and grew used to the pace of the ward. Gradually, I learned to move from knowing how, to showing how, to doing.

Year Four

On top of the clinical work, I had a number of additional challenges this year. I had an all encompassing OSCE, residency applications and touring, and a licensing exam to complete. By this point, clinical rotations were not quite as overwhelming or scary as they used to be, but I still had many hard days.

The brunt of the stress this year came from the latter additions. Those three things were for all the marbles, and the consequences of missing any one of those were a constant worry. The OSCE wound up showing some of my weaknesses that I would need to improve on. The CaRMS tour would take me across the country from colder to coldest winters in Canada. The licensing exam ended up being a two-week mad dash to the finish line. For six months, the pressures mounted through these three main events.

But I eventually reached the end of my four year journey. I graduated, I was admitted to a residency program, and I passed my exam. 

It has been a roller coaster ride through four years of medical school. I am happy I could document it all here in these posts. Now I start a different journey through residency and look forward to reflecting more on this new adventure.

Last Day of Class.
This is it. The final class of my four year journey through medical school. I may not have come out of it unscathed, but I have survived to see a new dawn and a new day as a resident.

Last Day of Class.

This is it. The final class of my four year journey through medical school. I may not have come out of it unscathed, but I have survived to see a new dawn and a new day as a resident.

Seven-Eighths MD: The Penultimate Review

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?

Three-Quarters MD: A Year In Review

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.

image

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks about learning mathematics from the Great Debate: the Storytelling of Science.

I watched this last night and I think it is advice that applies to many of the readers who have asked through the years what to do about their struggles with math, chemistry, physics etc. Certainly, I feel that it applies to those who question if medicine is too hard for their passion to stay alive.

With practice, you can become better at your craft, no matter what discipline you pursue. It takes time, it takes work, and it takes practice. But you do eventually get there.

Watch the full Q & A session linked above for other responses by Dr. Lawrence Krauss and Bill Nye to this question.

More than a year ago, I took my first steps into clinical training by starting my summer medicine rotation. It had begun a new chapter in my development and left a profound impression on me. It was during that brief one-month window that I first started to hone my skills out in the field under the tutelage of not only my preceptors but also the residents.
Now, I find myself on the opposite end of that spectrum; I had an opportunity to meet an up-and-coming third year medical student, a graduated second year clerk in his summer medicine rotation. For a morning, I was tasked to work alongside him and offer some support as I helped him with his patients. 
When we are in the thick of things, it is easy to lose perspective of how far we have come. With only a year separating us, it was surprising to me how far I had grown.
The man was bright and had a very academic mannerism of speaking, the hallmark of two years of lectures. Despite a formidable understanding of theory, there lacked experience and comfort with the practicalities of medicine. This was the great divide between us. I could see his unease at handling a presentation, at coming up with an approach and a differential. It was the same unease I had felt so many months ago, and one that I still feel often, albeit not as often or as strongly as I had before. 
But still, what a difference a year has made! Being able to see him, to work with him, and help him in this moment of his journey enabled me to appreciate and to put my own learning in perspective: there has been progress; there will be progress.

More than a year ago, I took my first steps into clinical training by starting my summer medicine rotation. It had begun a new chapter in my development and left a profound impression on me. It was during that brief one-month window that I first started to hone my skills out in the field under the tutelage of not only my preceptors but also the residents.

Now, I find myself on the opposite end of that spectrum; I had an opportunity to meet an up-and-coming third year medical student, a graduated second year clerk in his summer medicine rotation. For a morning, I was tasked to work alongside him and offer some support as I helped him with his patients. 

When we are in the thick of things, it is easy to lose perspective of how far we have come. With only a year separating us, it was surprising to me how far I had grown.

The man was bright and had a very academic mannerism of speaking, the hallmark of two years of lectures. Despite a formidable understanding of theory, there lacked experience and comfort with the practicalities of medicine. This was the great divide between us. I could see his unease at handling a presentation, at coming up with an approach and a differential. It was the same unease I had felt so many months ago, and one that I still feel often, albeit not as often or as strongly as I had before. 

But still, what a difference a year has made! Being able to see him, to work with him, and help him in this moment of his journey enabled me to appreciate and to put my own learning in perspective: there has been progress; there will be progress.

A Rookie Cut

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.

“Hey.”

“Hello.”

“Thanks for giving me the opportunity.”

“No problem. We all have to start somewhere.”