Just as chickens assert dominance with the beak, the medical student is reminded of his/her place upon the hospital “pecking order” by being routinely ignored. The memory of halcyon days spent reclining in lecture halls, the comforting warmth of coffee in hand, only serves to sharpen the realisation that you are not the priority of the institution anymore.
It really hits home on a given day, having hung around – although ‘hanged’ around would be more in keeping with your disillusionment with the world, having been in at half seven for ward rounds – past six o’clock, awaiting a lecture from a consultant who’s considered an expert in the field (and praying that it won’t be like yesterday’s expert; an hour of monotonous incomprehensibilities interspersed with intuitively, logically, obviously and simply), when word filters through at about 6:25 that the doctor is saving lives, lecture will be rescheduled.
Cue groans from the diligent – if largely horizontal, at this stage – few still in attendance. “Bleedin’ patients” is mumbled (perhaps presciently) with a grudging acceptance of this new status quo.
Waiting around, often for indeterminate periods of time, at the mercy of the system or the whims of others is the most exasperating aspect of clinical placement. Particularly when coupled with the gnawing sense of all the things that you could be studying at that time.
The medical student actually comes to terms quite rapidly with being ignored, as long as there’s something going on for him/her to observe. Sure, it isn’t ideal, spending two hours in the operating room, straining on the tips of your toes, hoping that one of the surgeons will move – just for a second – so that you may catch a glimpse of what is being done with this man’s intestines. At least you don’t feel as though you’re wasting time, valuable time that could be spent covering whole chapters in the library – particularly when coupled with the extra anxiety that looming exams bring.
In fact, being ignored even has its perks; when it’s (very) early in the morning and you just want to be left alone in the dark at the back of the room, for example, or even better; when you have absolutely no idea what is going on and would rather that the extent of your ignorance not be revealed to your peers by way of a “educational” grilling by the consultant. A truly mortifying experience, when a medical student’s intelligence comes under scrutiny, especially in front of patients, when there’s the added sense of being graded for future reference.
When discussing the realities of clinical placement, surgery has to be addressed. Unless he/she has been relatively unfortunate, the operating rooms are a wholly alien environment for the medical student. By the time the student has managed to attire himself/herself appropriately, navigate the maze of corridors barricaded with NO ENTRY BEYOND THIS POINT and key-card doors and figured out who’s who (scrubs – the great leveller, although surgeons in general tend to arrive last and leave first), it’s beginning to feel like some sort of Final Frontier.
If you’ve made it to theatre, then any initial expectations that surgery is, for the most part, a fine and delicate art are rapidly dashed (or smashed if you’re treated to an orthopaedic spectacle, some of the ‘implements’ used in that particular specialty need to be seen to be believed), granted of course that you can appreciate anything from the back of the room.
“Tell me, what did you see?”
“The intricacies of your back, Professor.”
Finally, on a slightly tangential note – never ask a medical student if they saved any lives today or any other day, just don’t do it. Not only have they heard it a million times before, but the greatest phobia of the medical student is being called upon to act in some Grey’s Anatomy-type emergency.
In reality, students experience mostly routine fare, drama usually involves angry or frustrated patients and family members, emotion that is mercifully deflected elsewhere by the white coat. áAnd often has this white-clad medical student noticed the longing eyes of a tortured-looking intern desperate to don the coat of ignorant absolution. Yes, being ignored has its perks.