What Grey's Anatomy Won't Teach You About Medical School
Medical school is basically like serving an apprenticeship. You have no real responsibility for anything. At the same time, you know at the end of it all, you will have responsibility for everything.
While in school, you can generally do as much or as little as you like. You can attend lectures, or bunk off the entire semester; you can leave hospital sites much whenever and no one will ask why; you can see things—surgeries, clinics, ward rounds—just for the hell of it. And, to boot, you don’t get paid for any of this. On the contrary, you pay for the privilege of serving another couple of years learning how to perform the roles you’re shadowing in a very roundabout way.
I’m in my final year of medical school in the UK, so I’m teetering on the brink of reaching full adulthood with the “MD” initials soon to be stamped behind my name. But I don’t quite feel there yet. Nobody expects much of me. Why would they? I’m not employed by anyone; I’m just here to learn. I attach myself to junior doctors like a parasite and follow them around like a lost puppy. I help them with jobs like X-ray requests, examining patients, and referring to surgeons. I ask questions. But the truth is, you don’t fully appreciate the enormity of the burden that will soon land on your shoulders. How could you? You’re still safety-netted.
I have developed a knack for knowing full well when a person is unlikely to survive, and everyone in the department agrees. We still put an oxygen mask and heart trace wires on the patient, pump them full of drugs and fluids, and generally try to counteract the inevitable, because the alternative is to accept failure. Doctors delay the truth like the rest of us do when faced with bad news. I can do this—I can watch people die, and feel nothing. I accept this is part of the job, and I know that people can’t live forever. But what I can’t accept is going home at the end of the day, and knowing that this will happen to the people I care about.
There is a huge void between the calm, borderline robotic persona I maintain within the confines of a hospital, and the one which enjoys spending time with my friends, family, boyfriend—even the dog. I cannot fathom how I'll behave if the same fates I encounter in med school training befall my loved ones. I cry when I see contestants on the Great British Bake Off fail their technical cake challenges; I empathize with Disney films; I avoid articles in newspapers that detail the horrors of terrorism. Yet I am solid in an actual crisis. I told this to my boyfriend and he didn’t believe me. He couldn’t reconcile the girl he sees outside of the hospital with the one in it. It just makes no sense to him.
It makes no sense to me either. But perhaps it’s a necessary division: How could I, as an emotional wreck on viewing The Lion King for the thousandth time, be able to cope with caring for the 29-year-old renal failure case, the suicidal teenager, the father with terminal cancer? So I believe, hardened as I have become, it is a persona borne out of necessity—to keep my head when all about me others are losing theirs, to paraphrase Kipling. Perhaps your life will be in my hands one day. I have to make sure that those hands aren’t shaking.
By Grace Hatton