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Bridge Over Troubled Water

Lipsman, Nir

doi: 10.1097/01.ACM.0000222274.98329.60
Teaching and Learning Moments

Mr. Lipsman is a third-year medical student, Queen's University School of Medicine, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

“Nir, will you be joining us in clinic?” my supervisor asked before his Tuesday morning ritual. Being my first day, I was taken by surprise, and embarrassed, I managed to nod and thought, “As long as by join you mean stand back and out of the way.” Up until this point, I was used to being ignored. I didn't realize that my attitude would quickly change.

I had the good fortune during the summer after my second year of medical school to join the research team of a busy surgical specialist in a bustling metropolitan hospital. Not knowing what to expect, I was anticipating a summer of busy work and a constant battle with residents for face time with the professor. The professor, or “The Boss” as he is known, has a reputation for being blunt and to the point, a no-nonsense clinician, who also happens to be a brilliant surgeon. I imagined that any wisdom I could glean, any experience I could absorb over the course of those months, would be invaluable.

Joining him in clinic, for example, was quite an experience. With a gaggle of residents and students in tow, the experienced surgeon would navigate seamlessly through a history and physical that would disorient even the keenest medical student. Watching him work, I couldn't help thinking of myself as an apprentice, as a student learning from a master of his craft. The Boss, however, wasn't satisfied with just letting me watch and insisted that I take an active role in his clinic. He assigned me patients to see and report on; it was terrifying yet thrilling, and I appreciated the opportunity.

That summer was the first time that an individual physician treated me as an active and equal member of his team. Having become accustomed to the label of “useless medical student,” it was exciting and refreshing to be involved and, even more so, to be valued. Over that summer, research fellows asked for my opinion regarding anatomic localization and The Boss asked that I present an article at the weekly journal club. I had found an environment full of people who not only shared my budding interests, but who were willing to take the time and effort to help me develop them further. That summer, I discovered the confidence I needed to decide that I wanted to be a surgeon.

With my preconceptions altered and stereotypes corrected, I finished my summer experience satisfied that my career decision can now be a source of solace rather than a source of continued stress. I lamented for my fellow students who were left to navigate the troubled waters of early career decision making without the benefit of a mentor, or a group of them, as I had over that summer. I realized that such relationships are keys not only for future academic collaborations but are the foundations of personal networks that allow students and practicing professionals to be satisfied with and passionate about their careers.

It would be presumptuous to speak on behalf of all medical students; however, it is not a stretch to say that we all want careers that will make us happy, that will challenge us, and that will provide the opportunity to change our patients' lives for the better. Choosing the right career is the most important decision that a medical student will make, and it took a career-affirming summer to help me realize that meaningful mentorship ensures that the decision is not made alone.

Nir Lipsman

© 2006 Association of American Medical Colleges