Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

Changing students lives

As a sixth (final) year medical student, I thought I was pretty tough.  I was doing a (Internal) Medicine rotation, which I thought I was good at, but I wasn’t.  Our clinical subdean, who was also a tutor, helped me to understand that limitation.  She was theoretically “on the students’ side” but one tute, she ripped our group’s case presentations to shreds, while sitting in a lounge in full view of patients, staff and visitors.

In retrospect, I can see that she taught me a lot about presenting a clinical case, and about the roles of bothe overview and detail.  However, she managed to get two of us in tears in a public place (yes, I was one), and ensured I focussed more on my personal embarrassment and anger, than the lesson at hand.  So, in contrast to other great teachers, the main memory was how not to teach students.  Maybe she also turned me off (internal) medicine – this was not the sort of doctor I wanted to be.

During that tutorial, she also learnt the story of one of my student colleagues, DrN.  This girl had worked incredibly hard to achieve her goal of becoming a doctor. She had come from a farming background, and a tiny high school.  Some of her family, friends and teachers actively discouraged her from entering medicine.  The others gave her minimal support, and definitely not encouragement.  This girl was inspirational to me, as I had sort of drifted through the whole thing: “Yeah, I guess I’ll apply there, I guess I’ll try that.”  DrN made a conscious decision in high school, and had a clear aim that she fought for.

You may wonder why I am not naming and glorifying this friend.  Basically, she was very reticient to share this side of her.  She didn’t think her background changed her as a student (doubtful), and wanted to be treated like others.  I hope I have smudged the details enough that she doesn’t feel identified by this, should she come across my blog one day.  But N, I really was and am impressed by you.

Anyway, it is probably obvious to you by now, that this tutor was impressed by DrN as well.  She decided that her struggle needed to be rewarded, and through that process, she “outed” N and her story.  We were all devastated, and DrN was too – not the grateful recipient she was meant to be.

Although I learnt many positive things from this tutor, I learnt more about the negative side of power. Doctors teach medical students, and junior doctors, and often in an intimate, small-group environment.  But they will also one day be their employers.  While maybe not a unique set up, that situation can create a conflict.  My focus is usually to look after patients to the best of my ability.  But I need to remember to look after my students and junior staff as well.

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