Kicking off intern year means BBQs, team dinners, and block parties. Every invitation encourages us to bring our significant others, those people who define our existence outside of the hospital. And yet, hot dog and cold drink in hand, it seems we can’t help but alienate our non-medical partners by talking exclusively about the minutiae of our medical lives: our interesting patients, our frustrations, and our philosophies of medicine. They stand there, nodding and looking into the distance, lip curling over as our incomprehensible exchange rambles on.
“It was a classic case of sick sinus syndrome …”
“So, I was doing my first para …”
“Did anyone else see the purpura?”
Social etiquette eventually obligates that the adrift spouse be brought back to the present with, “So, what exactly does an accountant do on a day-to-day basis?”
Last week I enjoyed a brunch that presented another perfect opportunity for anthropologic evaluation of the intern. An ortho resident was in attendance; a medical outsider, a new face at the watering hole. After countless hours in the OR and providing post-op care, she couldn’t possibly want to swap stories with medicine nerds. It was, shockingly, a new twist on the same routine. Our exclusive discourse given new life when told by someone who treats with the blade. The non-medicals, as always, feigned interest and daydreamed.
We are a rare breed who choose to dedicate our 20s to the pursuit of clinical excellence. Perhaps it is our need to affirm that we have made the right decision that forces us to fill our precious free time with our patients. Or, as newly minted MDs, maybe we are all seeking recognition that we are successfully traversing the same rites of passage. The spouses of new insurance brokers may likewise feel isolated at work parties where approval is sought from colleagues: “This guy came in wanting just motorcycle insurance, left with an umbrella policy.” (High fives all around.)
The danger, of course, is losing that which makes us whole. Our identities narrowing to simply “physician” with each impromptu patient presentation that takes place over burgers and mac salad. I know from having read my colleagues’ profiles that there are among us food bloggers, martial artists, and photographers. The difficulty is convincing us to abandon our Hippocratic commonalities and embrace our individuality.
But, now that I’m done being introspective, I need to tell you about this guy I admitted last night …
Ethan L. Bernstein is an internal medicine resident.
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