Every 4 weeks I start a new job. New boss, new co-workers, new hours. This is both the curse and blessing of a medical student in the clinical years. There are some rotations I just can’t wait to end, while others I wish could go on all year. (If there are any of my preceptors reading this blog wondering which category they fit into, don’t worry, yours was definitely the one I wanted to continue forever!) Since I’m a non-traditional student, I had a few jobs over the years. For instance, I worked for a couple years as a civilian contractor for the military. I was doing stuff that sounded really important on paper but was perhaps a bit more mundane in real life. In those days, I knew career civil servants who had been doing the same thing for 30 years or more, sometimes scarcely moving from their desk. I cringed at the thought, but for them, 4 weeks was like a day, and even my entire 4 years of medical school would be seen as no time at all. In fact, one old curmudgeonly co-worker once consoled me after my project was shot down by a Colonel who was also our boss: “Don’t worry, we can get that done when the next guy comes along. These military guys move on after 3 years anyway.” I remember thinking, “In 3 years?! I’m not waiting that long!” It’s no wonder I don’t do that job anymore.
There have been other jobs along the way that have been equally confounding. My first job after grad school was at a non-profit science and tech operation. I was so excited about what I was doing; I thought I really was playing a big part in the volumes of analysis that they put out. Then, a couple months after I started, my boss took me out to lunch for Secretary’s Day, which I promise is a real thing. I sat there eating my meal in utter confusion. I was apparently an assistant, and I always thought I was an analyst.
I recently started a new rotation, my ninth “new job” since beginning my third year. Nowadays it takes me just a couple hours to figure out if it’s going in the good or not-so-good category. Luckily, this one seems to fit squarely in the former. It’s a clinic position, so I have to learn where everything is, and of course most importantly, who to talk to about lunch, as in if there will be any free meals and on which days. This office is used to medical students. I can tell because they made very little initial effort to welcome me. That’s not to say they weren’t nice, indeed they very much were. But there is a different mentality for those who see faces like mine come and go every month. They already know me to a degree, since I’m just the interchangeable body inside the same white coat, with the same 3 or 4 books stuffed into my pockets, and the same questions. They won’t waste their time unless I turn out to be “one of the good ones,” whatever that means.
Sometimes as I wander through all these positions as such a neophyte, I think, does a med student even matter? Are we contributing? The short answer is probably no, until you get that one patient who starts talking maybe just a bit more because the med student seems to have a little more time. Or that patient who feels better just from having been heard, or perhaps reveals some small detail that they didn’t tell anyone else. Then, in those few moments, I don’t mind being new on the job. I remember that being new is not always a bad thing. In fact, occasionally it can come in handy.
Lost? by Susanne Nilsson