An oath I cannot keep

This week I will be taking the physician’s oath.

I am a person who only makes promises I can keep. Thus, I am struggling with committing myself to certain parts of the oath.

Reflecting over the last four years of medical school, I can say with certainty that I hated my medical school experience. I left my family/friends and the diverse, immigrant-cultured society that I’ve known my whole life for the homogeneous, passive-aggressive culture of the midwest. I never doubted my “Americanness” until I was bullied for my “coaster” accent and faced with daily microaggressions reminding me of why I don’t fit in. It wasn’t until my first-year peer evaluations came back that the implicit became explicit when an anonymous classmate felt the need to tell me I’m “a fraud” and to “go back to where you came from because you don’t belong in the Midwest.”

Daily microaggressions and/or explicit racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination became the routine way of life as the incidence only increased during clinicals. But the real hell for me was the peer stalking and harassment I endured across the four years.

I never imagined I would be leaving my home to go study medicine and have to lose my sense of safety in the process. Five minutes into a friend’s birthday party, I am being grabbed from the back by a drunk classmate who I’ve time and again stated I do not wish to have any engagement with them. They don’t let go and keep pursuing as I rush into a corner, hoping they will back off. As I rush out trying to get to my car, they block my car door, again professing their love one second and then swearing at me the next. It was the first time I had been afraid for my life.

What came out of that night was a loss of my sense of safety, an internal no-contact order with the school to provide a false sense of safety, and acute stress disorder. But what good was a no-contact order when he knew where I lived, my car make and model, and where I am scheduled to be throughout the day?

The worst part was the lack of support. Peers rushed to support the harasser. I was asked by the administration as to whether I instigated the behavior, as though this behavior is excusable. And with just a slap on the wrist and a “talking to,” the harassment continued. In 3 months’ time, the stalking continued with intimidation at bus stops and him following me during class, until the acute stress disorder turned into PTSD.

For my sanity, I opted to leave, packed up all my belongs and gave up my apartment to travel from one city to the next to complete my rotations. Essentially living out of my car, I at least rekindled some feeling of safety. That was until my harasser resorted to online bullying: mass messaging hundreds of medical students, professing his love for me indirectly, and then playing the victim by stating I am the physically and emotionally abusive one. Another PTSD trigger, another slap on the wrist.

With no real consequences, my harasser got bolder each time. Even toward the end of medical school, he decided to engage in direct contact, an irrefutable violation of the contract. And even then, nothing but a slap on the wrist, and with our impending graduation, wiping the administration’s hands clean.

I left my home to study medicine and be the best doctor I could be for my patients. I agreed to leave home because I was promised I would be provided a safe learning environment.

Now four years have passed. How am I to promise to treat my colleagues as my brothers and sisters when so many of them discriminated against my out-of-state differences and supported harassment and stalking? How am I to promise to give my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due when they too chose to support harassment and stalking by sweeping the behavior under the rug instead of enforcing responsibility?

Despite these unnecessary challenges, I survived medical school and am thankful to say I get to put this chapter behind me. But to commit to such an oath requires trust. And without accountability, there can be no trust.

The author is an anonymous medical student.

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