Little White Coats
Welcome to Little White Coats!
Little White Coats is the brainchild of Richard M. Pescatore II, DO, a first-year emergency medicine resident at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ. He is a 2014 graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Follow him here as he starts his residency in emergency medicine.
Dr. Pescatore also serves as an EMS medical director in Pennsylvania. He was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in aerospace engineering, and had planned to pursue a career as a nuclear submarine officer until an EMS run five years ago took him to a familiar but unexpected place. That call made him realize that EMS was more than a hobby and that his future was in medicine.
Read more about how Dr. Pescatore ended up as a "little white coat" in his first blog post, "Changing Course," and don't forget to sign up for the RSS feed for this blog to read his new entries.
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
With July come and gone, my fellow interns and I are starting to feel (slightly) more confident in our newfound roles as emergency medicine residents. I still haven’t figured out how to get surgery to come downstairs quicker, but I can at least direct my patients toward the bathroom without consulting a tech first (just around the corner, across from the stretchers). Each day holds its own lessons, excitements, victories, and disappointments. So far, it’s everything I’d hoped for.
Our residency orientation closed with a presentation by one of our seasoned attendings called, “The Ten Commandments of Emergency Medicine.” These maxims, which at this rate would take up more than a few stone tablets, yield advice ranging from “ovaries complicate things” to “be on the lookout for the Holy Grail.” (http://bit.ly/1pXI96J.) It’s the perfect lecture before we hit the department, a mixture of sage guidance and lighthearted warnings for the new interns. One commandment in particular, though, has stuck with me: an admonishment to “spend our coins wisely.”
It’s an apt metaphor. We all begin with a certain number of “coins in our pocket,” or mental energy and motivation, at the beginning of each day or shift. They’re a fluid resource. A difficult patient or situation may try to steal our coins, just as a great case or well-timed cup of coffee can replenish the stack. A bad day’s sleep on a string of nights might start your coffers lower than usual. It might cost a few coins to fight GI on the NG tube or to try to sell a social admit to a grumpy medicine resident.
I think about the coins metaphor often as I move throughout my day, and I’ve brought the imagery home so my wife understands when I tell her I’m running low on coins and don’t have the energy to do this task or to argue that point. I’ve had more than a few shifts where nothing seems to go right, where all of the answers I offer are wrong, where my lumbar punctures resemble more of a merlot than a champagne tap, and where my patients get stuck in a holding pattern I just can’t seem to break.
But I’m finding I have coins to spare even on the worst days. Maybe it’s because I’m still just so excited to finally be where I am. More than likely, it has something to do with the safety net I know is all around me: a smiling third-year by my side with every critical patient, a seasoned nurse to help at every turn, and a collected attending I can always catch out of the corner of my eye, keeping one of theirs on me at each step. So far, at least, I’ve been able to spend my coins freely, and I’m fortunate enough that the incredible people with whom I get to work ensure that my change purse remains full.
Saturday, June 07, 2014
“Your next great adventure awaits you.” So read my horoscope in Aruba’s daily news this morning. My wife (I got married last week, by the way) announced the prophecy as she drifted along in the hotel pool, piña colada in one hand, tattered paper in the other. “You will have a chance to prove yourself.” It was eerie, almost, just how correct the silly superstition was.
I’ve finished medical school. A few days ago my classmates walked across a makeshift dais and received their diplomas. I skipped the day in question; a honeymoon seemed more pressing. With that long-awaited piece of paper, we moved from being student-physicians to becoming the nation’s newest doctors. Our little white coats grew a few inches, and we all stood a little taller, proud of our accomplishment and pleased with the achievements shared by our friends.
Medical school was hard for me. Just as there were high points and victories, there were difficulties and struggles. The academic gauntlet of the first and second years morphed into the stressful rotations of the third and fourth years. Each month brought another test of knowledge, resolve, or patience. For every success or triumph, there came the occasional setback. I’d score a good grade or positive evaluation on one elective, and then agonize over a bad outcome or close call. The frustrations I’ve written of in the past would, at times, seem overwhelming.
But just as the Scorpio soothsaying said, my next journey is just beginning. It’s more monumental than it seems at first, I suppose, when I consider that nearly every move I’ve made over the past four years has been aimed at preparing me for my first few days of residency. Every study session, late night in the hospital, or extra shift on the ambulance was only so that my first hours as a doctor prepared me for three years of on-the-job learning and the medical discoveries waiting for me in residency.
I’m so excited it’s difficult to sit still. Even as I stroll the white sand beaches on my much-needed vacation, my heart beats in anticipation of the weeks to come. My wife, just finishing intern year herself, forbade me from carting Tintinalli across the Atlantic. My mind races with eager thoughts of my first scheduled shift (an overnight on a June weekend!) and the idea of finally growing into the doctor I’ve hoped to become.
But, just like in medical school, the peaks are tempered by valleys. As much as I’m excited for the weeks to come, I’m nervous and anxious about the path ahead. I worry that a knowledge gap — a clinical pearl I missed while cutting out early on a sunny day — could put a patient at risk. I fret that I won’t know the right answer when time is of the essence or that my training up till now will prove inadequate. Most of all perhaps, I worry about disappointing the mentors and role models who have helped me along the way, several of whom are my new attendings. Riding in a car with two of my future senior residents the other day, all I could think was, “Wow, they’re smart.” I confess to breaking open the books that night, anxious about my apparent deficiencies.
For now, though, I’m taking the advice of so many and relaxing before the beginning of my great adventure. The sounds of crashing surf fill my ears and my greatest worry is only that my glass is running low and the blender just seems so far away. My vacation marks the beginning of two journeys I’ve looked forward to for so long, and I know that each will always have its highs and lows, but I’ll need to savor each moment all the same. I hope you’ll stay with me as I don a slightly longer coat to begin my career as an emergency physician.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Today is Match Day. It's the medical school equivalent of Christmas, if Christmas came only once, and was one of the pivotal moments in a soon-to-be physician's career. Match Day is the culmination not just of the long and sometimes arduous journey that is medical school, but also the obvious end of the rollercoaster process of "The Match."
It formally began nearly a year ago. The online application system opened, and candidates across the country and around the world scrambled to submit paperwork as quickly as possible, speed and accuracy of documentation substituting in our minds as some misguided measure of dedication. Once the personal statements, board scores, and letters of recommendation were sent off, it was time to wait. That would become a common theme in the process.
We waited through the early Autumn, eagerly anticipating offers of interview from our favorite programs. We panicked when our inboxes remained empty, but breathed a sigh of relief after the ACEP Scientific Assembly when the notices finally came. We scrambled yet again to schedule interviews and dates. Latecomers were stuck with five days straight of interviews in every corner of the country. Once scheduled, though, it was time to wait again.
Interviews were an exercise in Tantalus’s torture. I was intent on staying in Philadelphia, and I saw myself content at every program with which I interviewed, and I could only count the days until I might don the longer coat I so coveted. I stood in awe at the history and wisdom held within Drexel's old halls, and delighted at the modernity and expertise throughout Einstein's. Jefferson's ultrasound experience wooed me just as Christiana's EMS opportunities did. I reveled among the FOAM superstars at Temple. I survived the legendary McNamara interview.
And just like that, it was time to wait again. Emails came and went, but we know not to put too much stock in assurances. The Match has surprised more than a few of our friends and predecessors.
Monday was an important day. Known in some venues as "Pre-Match Day,” the noon email from the NRMP was arguably the most important one of the week. I had matched ... somewhere. The hard work and long wait hadn't been for nothing, and my goal of becoming an emergency physician was set to come true. I was thrilled, but had little time for celebration as I returned to work. The real Match Day, the one I'd been waiting for, was still days away. And so I waited some more.
I can remember the first patient I ever saw. I was an 18-year-old EMT student, my white polo shirt and black rescue pants still bearing the folded creases from the store shelf where I’d bought them earlier that day. I was nervous. Through luck or fate I’d been assigned to the region’s largest trauma center and busiest emergency department — Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ — and I fumbled with the blood pressure cuff as I awkwardly wrapped it around the skinny arm of my first charge.
My fingers fumbled similarly when the match notice from the NRMP chirped from my inbox this afternoon. My stomach tightened as I clicked through the requisite screens, and my spine sent chills throughout my arms and legs. I finally made it to the result, and my smile stretched from ear to ear. I had matched my first choice, and nearly a decade after that fateful night in EMT school, I would be returning to Cooper as a young emergency physician.
My phone began to erupt with notes of congratulation and news of classmates' fortunes. A friend rejoiced over his perfect match while another sang a more remorseful song. All the while, my elation stayed firm.
But just like the months that stood between each step of The Match, the waiting begins again. I'll start residency soon enough, but until then it’s just a waiting game until I can cross the dais, collect my diploma, and begin this next step of the journey.
Friday, February 07, 2014
It was late or early, depending on your perspective. The buna makers were beginning to rouse from their short night’s sleep, and I rested heavily in a wicker chair, surveying the table in front of me. It was littered with the evidence of a night gone on too long, and I took a few moments to reflect on the somewhat surreal events of the earlier hours.
We had started huddled around the smallest of tables — a crowd of physicians from one of Ethiopia’s hospitals, a pair of young American doctors, and me. We chewed Khat root and sipped honey wine as the divide of thousands of miles disappeared among the shared language of medicine. We ate, drank, and laughed as we learned and grew among mutual instruction.
My medical school adventure is nearing its conclusion, and I’ve come to find that it’s the intimate hours of teaching and tuition that I look forward to most. Once or twice a month I get the chance to head back to school and climb the stairs leading to the simulation lab. More often than not, I've traded the day off from rotations for a night shift the evening before, so it's usually with a large cup of coffee in one hand that I push open the heavy wooden doors separating the fake patients from the outside world. Once settled in to the correct room and with the correct amount of cream in my coffee, I have the incredible opportunity to teach eager medical and PA students.
As much as teaching invigorates and excites me, the hours in front of the lectern are flanked by many more spent rehashing and reviewing material that seems to change by the minute. “Expertise” doesn’t seem to exist in the era of #FOAMed. A litany of experience and perspective pours from the community as soon as a new idea is shared or published. The benefit is universal — student and teacher alike are able to expand their horizons and find new avenues by which to pursue their own interests — but the instantaneous knowledge-sharing made possible by FOAM demands continual and dedicated review of the material by instructors.
It’s a concept, I fear, that may be missing in traditional medical education. We’ve become accustomed to hearing medical dogma repeated from generation to generation. Far too many professors stand in front of legions of eager learners and pass down wisdom that they, too, once heard while sitting in the same seats as their audience.
My late night in Ethiopia reinforced that the pursuit of better patient care is universal, that the thirst for clinical prowess is never quenched, not in American lecture halls and never in African deserts. We have all become perpetual learners in this era of open access education. Whether we’re students just donning little white coats for the first time, residents poised for graduation, or even attendings who have seen more than most, we hold the most special of privileges in the health and safety of our patients, and we must strive through diligent study and continuous training to be worthy of the task.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
A trip to Cambodia two years ago changed my life. I learned more about medicine and myself than I’d ever anticipated in the space of just a few weeks, and I begrudgingly left behind the blue shores of discovery to return to a course of medical education that had been forever altered. I started writing, threw myself into my studies, and found FOAM. During the rest of my didactic years and throughout my months of clinical education, I harnessed my experience as a cache of motivation and a muse for my weekly writings.
Now I find myself once more on the tarmac of an international airport, this time in Khartoum. Men with guns are all around, and out the window I see AK-47s and curtained military vehicles that obscure the natural landscape. Swirls of sand would stretch on as far as the eye can see, but ranks of Sudanese military aircraft and Gulfstreams emblazoned with the United Nations logo block the view. I’m not allowed off the plane.
The past few months have been filled with daylong interviews and late evening applicant meetings. I’ve walked the interview trail to half of the programs in Philadelphia, and ridden a roller coaster of anxiety about the future. Each interview has left me simultaneously excited about the opportunities ahead and filled with fear that my name might not top any rank lists come March. The uncertainty of residency — where I’ll find myself on July 1 — has made it difficult to find myself in the present.
I’m asked to define myself at each residency interview. Mentors have pushed me to refine my “elevator speech” and to do all I can to condense my description into just a few sentences, a 30-second spiel on the way to the 10th floor. So much of who I am is defined by the journey I’ve taken these past four years, and I’ve allowed the destination at the end of medical school to become my label. With that final designation still in doubt, I’ve let a nebulous future create an unsteady present.
I’ve had the opportunity to do so much since donning my little white coat with the help of so many mentors, colleagues, and classmates. I’ve healed and comforted the sick and injured, taught legions of eager equals, and crossed continents by plane and prose. I’ve erred, stumbled, and fallen. I’ve become a homeowner and a husband.
I’ll never master that 30-second elevator speech because as much as I am defined by my future, I am molded by my present and fashioned from my past. I don’t know what’s to come over the next few months, but for today I can say, “I’m Rick, and I’m going to Ethiopia to try to make a difference.”