In my third week of residency, I gave out my first sticker.
My medical assistant opened the drawer and revealed the rolls of stickers, asking me to choose for my patient, who waited behind the door I just closed, their smile joining all the other little smiles that filled this room before and would continue to fill after.
The mind took me years back to little feet in pink and white flowery sandals dangling off an exam table with my back to my brother’s, holding hands while two nurses stood alongside each one of us and administered our vaccines together.
I remember hopping off the table, following the nurse and pediatrician out of the exam room and to a group of drawers, which they opened to reveal rolls and rolls of stickers, beckoning us to take as many as we wanted. I remember the long minutes it took us to make the choices, my mother behind us telling us not to keep them waiting for our choices for too long.
Here I was, 20 years later, at the beginning of my pediatric residency, wearing nude heels and a white coat, a few feet taller than those years before, this time bending over to see the stickers inside the drawer, still with a similar enthusiasm but for a different reason.
I know there is more to pediatrics than giving stickers to children receiving vaccines, but the first three weeks of residency showed me so much about the field I am only beginning to learn about.
I worked the long and sometimes isolating hours of the night shift. I tried the demanding work of inpatient care in the daytime and made quick connections with families when I was the first to see their child upon their admission to the hospital. I learned to respond to being called “doctor” because, let me tell you, the first few times, I could not recognize they were calling for me.
I am also still learning the responsibility that comes with that title, the questions people are looking for answers from you for, and the concerns they would like you to reassure them about.
That week I gave out my first sticker, but the week before, I had my first baby struggling to breathe. I had my first few teenagers struggling to eat, a patient struggling with grief, and a patient with little coping mechanisms that they resorted to other things. I had my first cancer patient and my first conversation with them about what life-prolonging measures they’d be comfortable with. From each of these encounters, you walk into the room, learn this story, absorb it and exit, closing the door behind you, feeling undoubtedly changed but unsure yet of how.
The stickers felt simple and easy and a reminder that I am becoming someone’s pediatrician, slowly but surely.
Manar Mohammad is a pediatric resident.