Learning The Hard Way (so you don’t have to)….Or, How *Not* to be A Gunner.

One of the most important survival lessons I learned soon after starting med school was how to solicit and take advice. To learn from the experiences of others – med students, professors, MD’s, RN’s, etc to get a leg up and save myself some grief.

I think most of my (obviously savvier and less hard-headed) classmates learned this lesson well before I did, probably before starting med school, during the admissions process. While I (foolishly in hindsight), decided to apply and just sort of blindly took a whack it and was (somehow) successful with no guidance other than online instructions for application and the occasional Google search on writing essays.

(Looking back on this approach now….Yikes. Just, Yikes.)

The whole, flying solo/taking a whack at it approach wasn’t working out so well after I was accepted and classes started. I was struggling to keep up with notes and our enormous, overly complicated suggested texts a couple months into first year when I stopped one afternoon on my way to another soul-crushing solo study session to chat with some classmates. I mentioned my study woes, expecting commiseration, instead getting successive expressions bewilderment, horror(?), pity and rapid instructions to get my sorry behind to the med school library to check out the free(!) BRS texts and copies of Goljan. And that was the day I learned pull my head out of the sand (or, the aforementioned sorry behind), get help, and subsequently, the day med school got a h*ll of a lot easier.

Part of soliciting this help, of course, is helping others in turn by sharing the resources and experiences you garner (usually, in my case, The Hard Way because, hey, old habits die hard). In fact, I believe the quickest and best way to become A Gunner is to *not* share the love. I.e. lessons learned. Actually, I think that may be the (un)official definition.

(Gunner [guhn-er],  – noun: Dirty, lowdown, and generally despised info hoarding species of medical student.)

Nobody wants to be A Gunner. At least if this is something you aspire to, you are stupid. Because (as I learned The Hard Way), if you want to succeed in med school and the practice of medicine you first have to realize both are collaborative ventures. If you don’t share and share alike (even, maybe especially, stuff you learn The Hard Way that makes you look like an idiot – suck it up and fess up), you are missing out on vast amounts of information that will make you and the people you have to work with smarter, your lives and jobs easier. Plus, no one really wants to be friends or eventually, colleagues, with these individuals (tools).

In keeping with the spirit of Not Being A Gunner (/Tool), here are a few (random) things I learned (The Hard Way) the past couple weeks (so you don’t have to).

#1) Personal Statements (Part Deux). I had my MSPE interview last week and was told to bring a ‘rough’ draft of a CV and PS along. Well, as I wrote recently I roughed out an essay of why I decided to go into OB/GYN for LOR writers and thought that should be sufficient. El Wrongo. The Dean was, shall we say, less than impressed. When they said ‘rough’ draft they apparently meant ‘shiny, mind blowing finished product.’ Whoops. I feel slightly less embarrassed when I remember that they gave us absolutely no guidance on what to put in our PS or how to write it. So, here’s a ‘rough’ idea of what I should have shown up with. The Dean recommended that we write about a page and include 1) Background – why you decided to go into medicine (Just in case there is anyone out there left who doesn’t know this, “because I want to help people.” No.), 2) Values – why you have chosen your particular specialty, and 3) Plans – what kind of practice/practices (private, academic, general, fellowships, teaching, whathaveyou) you eventually see yourself engaging in. I thought this was a great general guide to writing a PS. (I also thought it would have been great to know this before I showed up for my MSPE with a raggedly, completely unacceptable essay that made me look like a ding dong.)

#2) Intubating people is difficult. When I called to tell Dr. Meatball about my fantastic first day of Anesthesia and how I nailed my first three intubations he congratulated me and told me not to get too cocky because I would inevitably, probably quickly, have a dry spell where I wouldn’t be able to find a set of vocal cords to save my pride. Of course, high on my Master Intubating Powers, I didn’t listen. I should have listened. By the third day of my rotation, I was completely disillusioned, disheartened and overwhelmed by the advice of multitudes of unfailingly, overly(?) helpful CRNA’s as I tried unsuccessfully, time after time, to get just one freaking tube in. I just don’t like (okay, I hate) being bad at things. Over the weekend I had time to calm down and reflect on things (more) rationally and I realized the hit or miss issues with the intubations are par for the course for pretty much every skill you learn in medicine. When you start out with anything – IV’s, catheters, suturing, H&P’s, physical exams, bypass surgery, etc. you are probably going to be a tad clumsy (at least at times, unless you are some kind of medical prodigy, in that case disregard pretty much anything on this blog). So. Get over yourself, get used to it and practice your *ss off until you aren’t clumsy anymore. Note: I did take my own advice and went 5/5 today, here’s to more practicing tomorrow!

#3) It’s okay to depend on people. Obvious right? Perhaps, unless you are relentlessly stubborn, incurably independent, USDA certified Type A overachiever. If you are a med student, there’s a good chance this may be you. I am getting ready to undertake one of the biggest adventures of my life, medical or otherwise. I’m leaving for a month-long OB/GYN rotation in a third world country at the end of the week. It’s my first time traveling overseas, much less to a place with no hot water, rampant cholera and very few people I will be able to communicate with without an interpreter. And I am feeling (a little…okay, very) nervous as I hurtle towards my departure date. And overwhelmed. I’ve had to reach out and ask for help from friends and family like never before, for money, pet sitting, transportation and serious morale support. It’s been very humbling. And heartening. I’ve asked and people have responded far beyond my expectations. I am so lucky to have so many lovely people willing to sign on as part of my adventures. There is no way I could do it without them. And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to. Life, like medical school and medicine is only successful as a collaborative venture. Letting people in, asking for and accepting help, sharing experiences, it seems, in the end, is what it’s all about.

Which concludes this week’s episode of HNTBAG. Tune in next week for more lessons I’ve learned The Hard Way (so you don’t have to). *

*Note: Of course, all advice I take is under advisement. I suggest you adopt a similar policy. Especially if it’s anything you read here. Just saying.