When break started, I had this “plan” to shadow various types of doctors since I would have six weeks of free time. I contacted a few offices, etc., but each attempt came back as a “right now is very busy for us, please check back in the Spring”. That was until a former professor helped me to get in contact with a former student at my university who is now in medical school. I immediately sent her an e-mail with some pretty open-ended questions about medical school, applications, etc., and she not only answered them, but offered me an opportunity to shadow at the medical school which she attends. Wow, I jumped at that opportunity! After a few e-mails back and forth, she told me that she would probably be on her surgery rotation when I shadowed and asked if that would be alright. I didn’t think about it and immediately said that anything would be great! She got me in contact with the right person and we sent each other a few e-mails. Around 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon, the director e-mailed me and told me that it was all set up for me to shadow in the Plastic Surgery Service the next day! My stomach did about 85 flips. When I originally began looking into shadowing, I had more of the “day-to-day” doctor in mind. You know, see a few patients, order a few tests, do a few exams. I was getting thrown right in and by Wednesday night, I was a big bundle of nerves and excitement! Prior to Thursday, the only time I had ever seen any sort of surgery done was on TV and I always look away…
Fast forward to the next day. I woke up bright and early to shower, get dressed and eat a big breakfast since I knew it would be a long day. My brother took me to the train so that I wouldn’t need to scramble to find parking. Once I got off the train, I walked to the address that was sent to me and waited for the director to come in. Before she showed up, the medical school student that made the whole day possible came in and we chatted for a few minutes. She answered a bunch of my questions about medical school, applications and post-bac. A few points she made:
- With her experience, the MCAT study program wasn’t worth the drive and she feels as though she would have benefited more from studying on her own.
- Shadowing is great and can lead to future research opportunities, which medical schools sometimes look for.
- It doesn’t matter much where post-bac is done. It is more important to score well on the MCAT.
- Once in medical school, she didn’t feel like she had memorized ALL of the science she had learned, but needed refreshers.
- Some medical students have photographic memories and can remember things from the first day of class. She isn’t like that and neither are a lot of other students and that is perfectly fine!
- The first two years of medical school are very much like under-grad. A lot of classes, with some patient interaction. She said that each year gets a little bit better because you are closer to what you really want to do.
- The second year is the worst year for everybody.
- It’s completely okay not to know what type of doctor you want to be. She said there are many students that come in and are completely sure they want to be X, Y or Z doctor, and then change their mind in the 3rd year and it all works out!
She then took me to get a temporary ID (but it looked completely legit!) and to pick up scrubs. We returned to the director’s office and she asked, “Did you eat breakfast this morning?” Uh oh. I had eaten breakfast, but she said that was a good thing and if I needed to leave at any point, then I should. She reassured me that they have had 3rd and 4th year students and residents pass out in the OR. Needless to say, I was so nervous about how I would handle what I was about to see. At least I would be sitting behind glass, right? Wrong.
I was introduced to another medical student that would be sharing a locker with me. A few things she told me:
- The MCAT course definitely helped her. It raised her score 5 points.
After changing, she introduced me to the student that I would be spending the day with. A few things he told me:
- A regular day for a medical student can start anywhere between 3:30 and 6:00 a.m., and might end at 6:00 or 7:00…or at 10:00 p.m.
- After surgery, it is the medical student’s responsibility to check on the patient the following day. They look at the incisions and make sure everything looks good. They also speak with the patient to find out how they are feeling.
He showed me how to scrub in, although I didn’t get to try it. He just told me not to touch anything blue in the operating room. That meant that it was sterile. I stood with my hands clasped together for the entire day. What if I accidentally touched something?! After that, he informed me that they would be doing a breast reduction surgery. Oh, and I would be right next to them doing it, could get as close as I wanted without being in the way, and could ask any questions I wanted to ask. Before they even did any incisions, I was shaking and sweating. What if I passed out?! Everyone was SO nice and kept reassuring me that it was okay to leave and come back and that everything would be fine. I had to look away on the first incision, but once I felt brave enough to look over, I realized that everything was fine! I could handle being there and I was not going to let myself get sick or pass out. The surgery lasted about three hours and during that time I asked a bunch of questions about what they were doing, what things were and questions about the patient. I was completely amazed at how laid back the OR can be, while still maintaining an incredible level of concentration on the task at hand. I asked one of the nurses how it is that everyone is able to talk, joke around, have an iPod playing, etc. and she said that since it was such a low-key operation, everyone is a bit more relaxed. They were all very aware that they are there for the patient and they are doing everything necessary to keep the patient safe, but at the end of the day, that is still their work place and it can’t be all seriousness. There must be an element of fun, even in the OR!
After the first surgery, we headed right into another surgery where a woman was having her latissimus dorsi (muscle of the back) moved to create the foundation for breast implants, since she had a double masectomy in the months prior. It was so amazing to see it done!
By the end of the day, I was starving. The surgeon and resident took a break for lunch, but no one else did. I didn’t leave until 5:00 and was ravenous when I got to the train station. Had I eaten during the day, I think that I would have been more inclined to stay longer.
I was completely fascinated by everything that I was able to see in the OR. I learned so much about what goes on “behind-the-scenes” once a person goes into surgery. More than that, however, I learned about my myself. Who knew that I could handle seeing blood, fat, tissue, and bones? Who knew that I would find all of that so interesting?
I am so thankful for the opportunity that was given to me yesterday. I can’t wait to shadow other types of physicians over the next few months to see what kinds of opportunities and careers are waiting for me!