Monthly Archives: November 2011

Medical School: Trimester 1

It doesn’t seem like much time has passed since interviewing at medical schools and now, yet I’m already done with my first trimester of medical school. You will be there soon enough. I’ve learned, and learned largely from studying for the MCAT, that hard work and persistence does pay off. It took hard work to get a good score on the MCAT, and it has been taking continuous labor to push through with good grades in medical school.

As you may already be aware of, medical school is broken into trimesters instead of semesters, so we have three terms per year. For most schools, there are a couple courses per trimester and some that overlap trimesters. The classes that change each trimester are the “crunch classes” – they are packed full of information and thrown at you a thousand miles per hour (or 1,609 kilometers/hour). Each exam is so intense, some classmates leave the exam crying; yet most of us seem to love it..

One Down!

In my first trimester, my main class included pretty much everything a greenhorn doctor-to-be needs to know about anatomy, histology, and development. Next summer I will have to take the first step of the boards and will need to remember all of that information that was packed into just a little more than 2 months.

Beginning my medical training also entails becoming professional. As we received our white coats, we made a statement to our surrounding community saying we will have integrity, humility, and a continuous pursuit of knowledge. This can be hard, especially when your class is still partying like in college or blatantly cursing about how hard the exam was. Would you want to see your family physician stumbling off the sidewalk drunk some Friday night?

Part of professionalism in the medical field is being confident as a physician or as a future physician. Personally, I find this the most difficult aspect thus far. We get graded on our performance with standardized patients, and we are expected to have an air of confidence. In my life experience, I’ve interacted with far too many over-confident individuals, that it has deterred me from acting anything like that. I am not overly-extroverted, and I believe it is good to be aware of my faults regularly. However, in a field where confidence is expected and even humility is expressed with confidence, I draw short. It’s a working effort, the primary aspect of professionalism that I’ve come to realize I need to give attention to.

Most medical students will agree with me in saying that one of the biggest challenges in medical school is simply that life goes on outside of school. People have children, need car repairs, get sick, or break up with their significant others. These things are hard when every hour is a potential hour of studying.

In all these things, perhaps a hand full of classmates decide this is not what they want to do with their lives, but the majority of us savor the rewards of getting that grade we were aiming for, learning where and why referred pain presents where as does, dissecting cadavers, etc. We embrace the challenges before us with courage, knowing this is what we chose and this is what we love. I am excited for the next trimester, and I am excited for you. You’ll be here before you know it.


Witchdoctors and Healing Onions

Caught your attention now, did I? Do you ever come across these chain mails telling you how you need to make sure you don’t look at red stop lights too long for fear of brain tumors, that the president is really a different person who is under a mass disguise, that the world is ending on your next birthday, or perhaps something less extreme like leaving an open onion in each room of your house prevents sickness? I have. Then I googled.

There are tons of interesting pages or articles about the healing power of onions. Granted, my mother always told me I should eat onions; they’re “good for you”. She never cut one open and left it next to my bed overnight while I was sick. There are testimonies online saying how people felt better after opening an onion and letting it “soak up the sickness” overnight. Some even say that their onions turn black with bacteria after one night of sitting out!

I am wary of stories like these, although I do enjoy a hearty onion in my chilly or Indian dinner. They do contain many antioxidants, but soaking the sickness out of the air and into a vegetable, really? I’d love to hear if anyone has experience with this or has any other stories to share. I have a story to share myself.

When I went to Zambia for a month-long course and for cultural exposure, my class visited a local witchdoctor. He was respected amongst the local villages, and often the villagers went to him for healing before traveling to the medical institute. Indeed, sometimes his treatments “healed” them. (The power of suggestion is an impressive thing. Ever taken a placebo pill and were told it would make your headache go away, and it did?)

This witchdoctor had a few shenanigans of his own. He had an intact turtle shell with some things inside that made noise when he shook it, and he had a couple dozen bottles with different sands or spices in them that he mixed together and medicated his patients with. Sometimes he would put the spices or sand into an open wound to heal the wound. This, of course, would usually just make the wound infected and be cause for a trip to the hospital.

Here is a picture of the Zambian witchdoctor and his translator:

a Witchdoctor I met in Zambia

Witchdoctor in Zambia

When the witchdoctor has pretty tough patient cases, he consults the “wise spirits”. He showed us how he does this, as he pardoned himself to get some things from his office in the backyard and came back out with a canary yellow old school telephone which was no longer connected to the base unit. After dialing the number, he spoke into the receiver, and we heard someone or something speaking back. Unbelievable! The majority of us also happened to notice that the witchdoctor was subtly squeezing a squeaky toy in his fist every time we heard the spirits talk – couldn’t fool us!

While we shouldn’t be deaf to alternative ways of treatment, medicine still needs to be science-based and should undergo scientific studies and testing in order to be taken seriously. I find no harm in eating onions, blinking at traffic lights, or questioning a politician’s motives. When some things get to point of hurting rather than healing someone, it is time to speak up. “Primum non nocere” means, “first, do no harm” and is a value that has been present in medicine since the 1800s. It’s a good motto to live by as we help administer patient-centered care.