Five doctors - a general practitioner, a paediatrician, an internist, a surgeon, and a pathologist - decided to take a weekend trip and go duck hunting.
Soon after they were in their duck blind, a bird flew over and the general practitioner said, “I think that is a duck,” and so he took aim and slowly squeezed the trigger…but then he lowered his rifle and said, “I better get a second opinion.” “Back of the line,” said the group.
Another bird flew overhead and the paediatrician said, “I think this one is a duck too,” and he took aim…only to lower his rifle and say “but that duck might be a mother have baby ducks somewhere.” “Back of the line,” said the group.
A third bird flew overhead and the internist shouted, “That looked like a duck, etiologically classified as Animalia, Chordata, Aves, Anseriformes, Anatidae, based on the size, I am judging it to be a male, with an estimated weight of…” Before he could finish his thorough assessment or raise his rifle, the bird was gone. “We do not need to hear all that gibberish. Leave it to me,” said the surgeon.
Then a fourth bird flew overhead and the surgeon immediately raised his rifle and with no hesitation shot the bird out of the sky. He then turned to the pathologist standing next to him and said, “now go find out if that was a duck.”
After weeks of studying, it had come down to this day: the surgery oral examination. Historically, it has remained one of the most challenging exams in third year. It covers a wide variety of subspecialties to great depth; of course, who can forget the intimidation factor of a face to face interrogation?
I went into the first station, sheer terror gripping tight my heart with icy fingers, knowing full well what merciless horrors senior students had suffered in this hour in years past. I hoped I was up to the job.
I was not prepared for what I was about to endure.
From the moment I was seated and the timer started, the questions lay siege. An unrelenting torrent that had me choking and drowning in my own words. The surgeons meticulously picked apart my answers and showed me how wrong some of my answers were.
It was a sorry sight indeed; the other stations were no better.
I felt embarrassed, shamed and defeated. I had not only come face to face with the expectations of the surgeon and fell well short, but I had come face to face with my own. Worse than the biting comments of a surgeon was knowing that I had let myself down.
Having said that, the entire exam took me to that space that is often talked about but not always explored: the space of the unknown. The surgeons today forced me inwards and ripped from the depths of my mind the large voids in my knowledge. And though the experience getting there was not a pleasant one, I must move past this and press onward with the hope that I can retrace my steps to this sacred place in my knowledge scape and rebuild.
That man I operated on was 85. And he was the youngest man I operated on that day.
As a medical student, the only correct answer to the question “how long must you scrub?” is: longer than the time it takes the surgeon to scrub.