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One semester does not a medical doctor make

With my first semester as a medical student drawing to a close, I often find myself wondering, ‘Am I different yet?’ Have I made that magical change that equals a physician? I feel like I can say with absolute confidence, no, not yet.

I’m still awkward at times, oh so awkward. Such as when I ask patients if I can palpate between their ribs near the breast and report back to them that ‘Everything looks good.’ Or when I fumble around with questions about the ease of patients’ ability to clean themselves and undertake the necessities, such as toileting. Inquiries such as that seem to offend societal norms, which I’ve been trained to adhere to for 20 some years. It definitely requires quite a bit of time and a few self pep talks to get in there and overcome the intrinsic desire to wince at the awkwardness that seems to emanate from me.

Once when explaining this feeling to my mother, she fell back on the oldest trick in the book, ‘oh, that’s easy… You should just imagine the patients in their underwear.’ Ironically, this is often not something that needs to be left to my imagination.

However, despite my inner awkward-fest, patients are beyond forgiving with our constant intrusion into their lives and, in fact, seem to take comfort in my interest. I learned this firsthand when I interviewed my senior mentor, a senior citizen who has agreed to supplement my understanding of the needs of geriatric patients. I asked her an assortment of questions about her lifestyle and the changes she’s noticed in her body during the aging process. While I have gained a sense of intimacy between us, I have yet to bring myself to ask the question that offends the unspoken rule of aging women: Exactly how old are you? While I think that is totally within the limits of a reasonable interview, it’s a question that definitely symbolizes my inability to completely let go of my former restraints. 

Yet despite my constant inner battles, from time to time I see a glimmer of my future self shining through. One such occasion can be understood only in the context of the fabulousness that is my luxurious kitty: Penelope. This cat equals a sense of home to me. It is somehow necessary for me to know that someone or some fur ball is awaiting my return from the library each night. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, during my furious effort at a pumpkin cheesecake, Penelope slipped out the side door and went on an adventure of her own. Once I had realized that my apartment was deficient one wad of fur, I went into freak-out mode.

I flew out into the backyard of my apartment complex, trudging through bushes and crying out for the missing cat. After 20 minutes of frantic and unsuccessful efforts, I went back into the apartment to regroup. I had let the stress of work I had piling up manifest and compound the issue of the missing cat. Upon observing that my cloudy mind overrun with emotion was doing me no justice, I came to the realization that sometimes you have to quit crying, pick yourself up, and just go find your cat. I’m happy to say Penelope was found and the gained philosophy has served me well in overcoming the daily patience-trying obstacles I seem to face.

Editor’s Note: Chelsey Baldwin of Little River is a first-year medical student. This column follows the journey of her class in becoming doctors.


Friday, Dec. 3, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.