I have a skeleton in the closet.  I really do.  It is a human skeleton that I acquired when as a first-year medical student at the University of Sydney in 1981. Back then, just about every medical student would own a half or full skeleton. They had to be real human bones as the quality of plastic models at that time were as good as useless as they often lacked many ...

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A few weekends ago, I saw a patient with bloated shins at our school’s free clinic, and I marked in my notes that she exhibited “peripheral edema,” an esoteric phrase that means little to those outside of the medical community. That experience only highlighted the tendency in medicine to inflate common bodily functions into opaque medical jargon. Its use can be frustrating for patients who are trying to understand their ...

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“You work here?!” I nodded, a hint of a smile revealing my bemusement at his incredulity. “Well … probably not after this.” The other patients in the psych waiting area of the ER nodded in agreement. In my newly issued brown scrubs, stripped of my belongings, I was no longer a research coordinator at a top hospital, but rather one of them. And sadly, they believed being one of them meant you couldn’t ...

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Throughout most days of clinic rotations, I envision myself panning for gold. Just like I pretended to do as a young child. I am standing in a river that courses through a mountainside somewhere in West Virginia. It is a warm August afternoon; I roll up the pant legs of my overalls and wade into the water, which is just cold enough for you to keep noticing it. As each ...

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Alright, here you go future medical school applicants. Here it is. My personal statement for medical school, written four years ago. *** Strolling down busy, student-filled Rue Mouffetard, I was surprised to turn around and see my friend's swollen eye as he ran off; he had been punched in the face. Thirty seconds later, his cousin was attacked and pushed against a car. Initially confused and terrified, I sprinted across the narrow ...

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How many of our conflicts could be handled better or averted if we had the opportunity to spend some time in the shoes of the person on "the other side"? When we experience a situation through another's eyes, and when we understand their work and world, true empathy, understanding and trust can emerge. This is certainly true in our hospitals, where the frenzy of patient care activities involves multiple roles -- ...

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Recently, my friend “Tim” told me that he no longer wished to become a doctor. He had already taken the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and all his premedical course requirements. But a summer shadowing physicians whom he described as  “always unhappy” convinced him to cut his losses. “I worked hard the last three years,” he explained to me. “But I don’t want to be miserable forever.” Medicine is a demanding and often ...

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Confession time: I despise presentations that involve the use of a PowerPoint Jeopardy! game. To be clear, I get uncomfortable when any game-like activity appears in a medical teaching presentation. Not that I don't think games can have an important role in education -- far from it. Heck, I once worked on a presentation that turned our residency conference room into a giant Game of Life board with the residents ...

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Dear attending, I’m a third-year medical student fresh out of the classroom.  I’ve studied from books for years, and now I finally get to see what it is like to be a doctor. It’s exciting but also a daunting experience. I look to you as a guide: what you wear, how you speak, what tools you use, and how you treat others.  This is the year I will be socialized ...

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Dear trainee, I was once in your shoes. There was a time where I wore a beat up white coat, pockets overflowing with cards and knew every nook and cranny of the hospital. I was the doctor that woke up the patients in the am, gently asking them to roll over so I could listen to their lungs sounds. That was me. If you’re anything like me, then you are counting the ...

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