No one really gets it

I found myself sitting across the table from my engineer father and brothers, trying to explain what I'll actually be doing over the next couple of years in school:

Dad: So what are you doing next year?
Bostonian: I'm in the hospital learning how to diagnose patients and manage their medical problems.
D: But what about classes?
B: There are a couple...but only for the really important stuff
D: What about books and tests?
B: Yeah, still have lots of reading to do and a big final at the end...but I'm in the hospital for like 12 hours every day talking to patients, standing around in surgery and chasing down information.
D: So you get your own patients?
B: Nope, the residents and attendings check and redo everything that I do. I can't do anything on my own.
D: Why are you there again?
B: ...!?!?!

I guess the point of this post is that I'm not exactly sure how to explain to the average lay person what my role as a third year medical student is because I haven't conceptualized it myself.

Within the context of the delivery of health care, I am at best a leech on the scrotum of everyone on my medical team; a painless annoyance that just sits there sucking up resources, time and attention. At worst, I'm a stumbling block; everything that I'll be doing, someone will have to double check in excruciating detail and probably correct. Everything that I don't understand will have to be drilled into my head. I'll be the pain in the ass at 2 in the morning that needs to get in his delivery before the end of his OB rotation, the speed bump in the trauma room after an 18 hour day, the poor kid with the deer in the headlights look on his face who accidentally scrubs out when the attending pimps him across the sterile blueness of the operating field. The only schmuck in the hospital willingly paying out of pocket to be there, not out of necessity.

On the other hand, I''ll probably be the first one on the wards in the morning collecting labs and scurrying around to not look like a schmuck on rounds and piece together what happened over night with my patients while I slept soundly feverisly prepared passed out at my desk trying to prepare for teaching rounds. I'll be the one sitting with the patients for hours on end making sure that every detail of their history is documented. I'll be writing up the most complete notes and admits because I have extra time to wrap my head around the case. I'll be the one making the nurses', interns' and residents' lives easier by running the mid-level scut at a financial profit to the hospital.

We're sitting in orientation this week, and everyone tells us how amazing of an experience we're in for during third year and spends 5 minutes of their talk blowing sunshine and rainbows up our asses. But at the same time, I'm about to be one of the few people that even the night-shift janitor knows has no real business being on the wards.

How do you make the average person understand what you do without making their head explode in confusion/horror/pity?


Dragonfly said...

I know. A family friend was (who knows why) trying to be competitive about how much work her daughter does with her accounting degree, and scoffed at my several classes a week. I was like "dude, I am there more hours than a full time job".

The Lone Coyote said...

Try calling it the "apprenticeship model." People somehow seem to have an "ah-ha" moment when I put it that way.

Rogue Medic said...

Or you could explain that it is like the laboratory portion of a science class that has an extreme amount of lab work.

The lab work is not something that is productive for anything other than learning, but people would not scoff at chemists spending hours in a lab.

Chemistry is simpler than medicine. Or that is what the consensus on the difficulty of biochem suggests. :-)

Albinoblackbear said...

I say next time flip the table over, sending the mashed potatoes and gravy flying and shout "You don't know how bad it gets!"

I find sometimes a little overreaction and appropriately timed movie quote is the best way to get the point across.

Rogue Medic said...

For overreaction, I prefer light comedies, such as Goodfellas.

"You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little f@#$ed up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to f@#$in' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?"

But, I'm funny that way. :-)

Resident Anesthesiologist Guy (RAG) said...

My wife didn't quite get it either. Sometimes I didn't get it, but just dealt with it and moved on.

I don't have med students this month which will hopefully make my transition from med student to the med student's intern (and apparently teacher, which is really F'd up) a little easier since I'll be more used to the system. Probably not, though.