October 2021

Dear Medical Student

Dear Medical Student,

I remember what it was like.

I remember what it was like the week before your clerkships begin, when you spend thirty minutes writing an email to the resident about how you’re excited to work with them, about how you’ve done cardiac stem-cell research and are interested in pursuing cardiology, and what can you do in advance, and oh, where should you meet the team on Monday morning? And they respond, “Great see you Monday 7 – Jack.”

Asking Permission

When our children were young, my husband and I taught them about the need to ask permission before performing actions that could have consequences. As part of our strategy, we highlighted whenever a poorly thought out choice triggered a positive or negative outcome.

To my bemusement, even into their early adolescence, our kids would ask if they could have a snack or dessert or watch an extra show. I would bring great ceremony to my reply, in the hopes of perpetuating their impression that asking for permission was still necessary.

Healing Repeats Itself

I arrive at sunrise to find the asphalt stretching out, dotted with steel beasts. There are no open spaces here. This the parking lot of the ER, where some of our staff are finishing their shifts, and others are about to begin.

There is no difference between day and night here. The staff works round the clock to stem the never-ending barrage of suffering and pain that comes through our doors.

Caught in the Middle

One day several decades ago, after morning rounds, Dr. Prescott slipped into the ER where I was the cardiac nurse. She did something a doctor would never do: She placed her leather medical bag on a stretcher instead of on the desk. Her eyes locked onto mine.

“I’m having a heart attack,” she said calmly.

No Shoes, No Service

The sign on the door of the hospital gift shop boldly dictates who will be admitted: “No Shoes, No Service,” it says.

“But I’m wearing shoes.” The man’s voice screeches obstinately, the soles of his cutaway tennis shoes flap, and his bare feet slap hard on the linoleum floor as he fumbles the get-well card he’s holding and it goes flying.

I, an underpaid clerk, sigh in disgust. I haven’t encountered a customer like this in some time. His hair is slicked back, his shirt is untucked, his face is partly hidden behind a blue surgical mask.

Community for Change

I confess that I am guilty of the sin of silence. I watched my neighbors spend every Sunday holding Black Lives Matter signs to remind drivers of the racism that pervades the country, but I never joined in. The largest mass killing of Jewish Americans occurred in my city’s synagogue, yet the night after the shooting, when residents of all faiths gathered to remember the fallen and protest anti-Semitism, I remained in my apartment.

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