Here‘s a NYT piece by Pauline Chen, MD regarding changes in medical school training at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Minnesota, among other institutions. I’ll also add to Dr. Chen’s point: Not only does the current system of third-year rotation blocks reinforce fragmented care, but it also does not allow students adequate time to make informed decisions about their future specialties.
Now that the new year is here, many pre-meds, medical students and residents will be asked to finalize their schedules for the next year or more. Although it’s easy to get wrapped up in it all, I wanted to put in a plug for something a bit unconventional – time away from the field entirely.
When I was in medical school, I took almost a year away to travel and explore journalism, a career that had always interested me. I obtained a small grant to conduct research in Mexico and then backpacked with some friends through Mexico and Guatemala. I also spent a month in Thailand. Additionally, I was awarded an American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Fellowship in Science Writing, so I worked in Portland at the Oregonian writing articles for the paper.
Taking time away from medicine is not an option for everyone: Some institutions do not encourage it, and there is usually a financial opportunity cost. I will say, though, that being away from medicine made me appreciate it more and helped me improve several useful skills, including foreign language and writing.
If taking a scheduled break from the norm is a viable choice for you, I would strongly encourage it. The experiences I had have long-reaching effects that continue to help me as a physician today.
I recently read a NYT piece called, “Why Would Anyone Choose to Become a Doctor?” by Dr. Danielle Ofri. It’s a sweet essay written by a physician who describes being perplexed by the large number of medical school applicants yearly, considering her profession’s numerous annoyances.
As the author considers alternatives to her career, however, she comes to the conclusion that her clinical encounters make it all worthwhile. The essay is a nice pick-me-up.
A few weeks ago, I recommended reading This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes, and today I want to highlight another must-read for the physician or doctor-to-be. The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down was published in 1997 and promptly won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among other accolades.
The book chronicles the U.S. medical experience of a Hmong family, showcasing the twisted miscommunications between the two groups. It’s an excellent story and strong reminder to all medical caregivers as to how – although everyone may be aiming for the patient’s best – cultural differences can spoil the doctor-patient relationship.
I wanted to put in a plug for a book I’m reading called, “This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes” by Marilyn Berger. The book chronicles the work of Dr. Hodes, an American doctor who has lived in Ethiopia for over three decades assisting children with horribly severe – oftentimes lethal – spinal problems (frequently tuberculosis-related). Dr. Hodes himself has adopted several sick Ethiopian children.
During his emergency medicine training, my husband worked with Dr. Hodes and was tremendously impressed with his dedication. Here is more information about Rick Hodes and the work he does.