Reflections From a Med Student Without Her Hospital

Vanessa Yu

Tufts University School of Medicine, MS3 (MD/MBA)


May 22, 2020

Boston, Massachusetts

As the final rotation of my third year comes to an end, I look back on the past twelve months with many fond memories. After two years of sitting in lecture halls, I was more than ready to drape that stethoscope around my neck and saunter down the hospital hallways in a pair of blue scrubs. Finally, I felt like a doctor – like I was actually going to do what I had come to medical school for. And for the majority of my third year I was lucky enough to continue feeling this way, thanks to the residents and attendings who made it a priority to include me as a part of my patients’ care team.

On the morning of March 16th I rounded on a patient with chronic pancreatitis, apologetically waking him up at 6am to push on his belly and carefully combing through his past medical history before scribbling out my differential on the back of my patient list. I was ready to share everything I had uncovered, and more importantly, I was ready to make this guy feel better.

But by noon, none of this mattered anymore. All third year students had received an email telling us that we would be taken out of the clinical setting for the rest of the year. I looked at my list with vitals and labs scribbled all across the edges and tossed it in the trash, and as I walked away from the hospital I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I wasn’t going to be there to round on my patient. I wouldn’t be there to let my team know that he had reported two episodes of non-bilious emesis at home which had resolved since admission. And then it dawned on me: my patient was going to be completely fine. Whether or not I was there to report his change in bowel habits, my patient was going to get the same care he would have otherwise. I began to wonder: what had I been doing this entire year? And did any of it really matter?

I realize that many of these thoughts are likely amplified by the fact that I have been pacing around the same 800 square feet for the past three weeks with little to no social interaction. Of course my third year mattered – after all, I had learned more about medicine and patient care than I ever thought imaginable. However, the role of a third year medical student in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely humbling. One day you are an integral part of the care team and then suddenly you are sitting at home in your pajamas while the hospital continues to run as it always has.

Although the hospital continues to run smoothly without its medical students, I’m not positive the same is true the other way around. My first day away from the hospital was filled with uneasiness. I spent hours flicking through Netflix with this feeling that I was supposed to be doing something. Wasn’t there a patient log to enter or a rare disease to be looking up? What was I supposed to do with all this time?

This uneasiness lingered throughout the first week away from the clinical setting, but I have since started to make some sense of it all. While the past three years of medical school have been some of the most educational, fascinating, and fondest years of my life, they have truly been all consumed by medicine. I have been 100% a medical student, living and breathing the mantra of “life-long-learner.” There has never been a time where there was not a patient to check up on, a shelf exam to study for, or a presentation to prepare. All these tasks went away when COVID-19 emerged, and I was faced with what my life consisted of when I didn’t have medicine – it wasn’t much.

Before medical school, I had many interests (perhaps too many). I loved music: playing the violin with my sisters, attending Broadway shows with friends, or grooving to classic 2000s R&B on a Friday night. I loved anything that involved getting my hands dirty and could spend hours in a pottery studio molding a block of clay or in the kitchen throwing together whatever leftovers I had in the fridge. I loved learning languages, being outdoors, and crafting handmade birthday gifts. I suppose these are all little things, but together they gave me some sort of identity. These past three years my identity has been “medical student” and, unfortunately, I have lost touch with these other parts of my life that were once important to me.

Being a medical student is a privilege. We are gifted the knowledge of how to make people feel better, and in return patients let us into their lives on a level that requires incredible vulnerability and trust. This is not something I take lightly, and I believe that becoming a doctor is worth the personal sacrifice. However, the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic made me realize that perhaps things do not have to be so black and white – after all, life is unpredictable and sometimes too short. I am not sure that I have completely figured out how to balance the demands of being a physician with the need for nurturing personal interests. But these past three weeks I have slowly started to add some non-medicine activities back into the mix – picking up my violin for a few minutes, reading a book before bed, and taking the time to check up on old friends. And at least that’s a start.


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