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Like it or not, med school causes 'profound changes'

Editor's note: Chelsey Baldwin of Little River is a second-year medical student. This column follow the journey of her class in becoming doctors.

It's a question I hear frequently, particularly over breaks when reunited with people from my pre-medical school past: Do you think medical school has changed you?

I usually joke back, "Gaw, after all the tuition we pay, something better have changed." Joking aside, this question can be answered rather simply: absolutely — just as all experiences that are beautiful, trying, enlightening or prolonged cause modifications in any person. Medical school, containing all of the above aspects, has caused quite profound changes.

While the most obvious of changes are found in our shiny new medical vernacular and improving patient finesse, ease with discussions of bowel movements and sexual histories, the changes to one's personality aren't so blatant. However when these tweaks to oneself do come to light, they can be all the more startling and leave you wondering: Who are you and what has medical school done with the person I used to be?

My mother used to describe me as cat-like: Averse to being clung to, shying away from displays of epic emotion and affectionate only on my own terms. I loathed crying, did my best to avoid mother's sappy episodes and took pride in my ability to never let emotions overwhelm me. And yet the demise of this aspect of my personality became evident as our final lecture of the fall semester, "Discovery of Insulin," was drawing to its end.

As our lecturer described the miraculous restoration of health in children with Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 who were further afflicted by the only treatment known to prolong lifespan at the time — starvation — tears began to well in my eyes. He explained that the discovery of insulin was the first time that the practice of medicine was more than making a diagnosis, it was curative. The talk was absolutely beautiful, and it struck me in such a way that my tears began to pour.

First I cried because I felt so horrible for the children, then I cried in relief for their liberation from suffering. Then the source of the waterfalls spilling down my face changed to tears of pride for I too would become a part of a tradition of healers. By the end I wasn't sure why I was crying except that it felt good. It had become a catharsis, a chance to feel something more than book pages between my fingers. I embraced the emotion, clung to its messy nature devoid of poise. Minutes later, as I wipe away the evidence of my emotional outburst that only a few years earlier would have sent me running for the hills, I smiled, pleased with myself. I had felt something real, and there was no shame in that.

Even when I am able to leave my books and notes behind, the changes inflicted travel with me. Over the winter break, I sought out my favorite eatery in the Newark airport, a yearly ritual of my holiday season pilgrimage to Cleveland. I ended up sitting next to a young English professor passing the time before his flight by writing poetry. He was clever and fun to talk to. I giggled about my encounter to my girlfriends later on, a little shocked when reminded of a previous boyfriend I had broken up with soon after the composition of a sappy love poem. When had I become a romantic? I explained to them that I imagine the poet-crush likely had shared the same origins as the tears.

I remember once being told that college, not medical school, is the time to find one's self. I had copied the previous statement down in a notebook, intending to work the fact that I was confident that I had already found my "adult" self into my interviews. Yet after a year and half of medical school, I have to respectfully disagree. I've become an emotion-embracing, poet adoring, bodily-function-discussing physician-in-training, a change for which I completely, but not begrudgingly, blame medical school.



Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

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