“Never let school get in the way of your education,” my father often quipped. Now, I find myself with a paucity of schooling and an abundance of education. It has been 21 days since I received an email instructing all students to leave clinical rotations immediately.
Right now, I should be on my OB/GYN rotation. I imagined that during the month of April, I would be listening to women’s concerns, delivering babies, observing terrified new fathers, and perhaps learning what it means for a woman to be G4P2002. I looked forward to the (sometimes painful) growing that I would do in my first clerkship—the reprimands from attendings, raised eyebrows from scrub nurses, and deep sighs from residents that would give me material for my list, “Ways to Make a Fool of Myself.” I looked forward to showing up every morning eager to learn and returning home each night completely saturated from the day’s events. I looked forward to practicing the skills of our craft: taking a history, giving a presentation, investigating the literature, and discussing treatment options with patients.
In short, I looked forward to taking one gregarious step toward becoming a doctor. I felt like a kindergartner on the front steps of my house, about to step off the front porch for the first day of school—pigtails braided, Chuck Taylors double-knotted, and a backpack held tight with the crook of each thumb. I had the knowledge I had gained from 19 years of schooling and the time had come for me to take the leap into the real world. I was on the verge! The great trampoline bounce before the circus trick. The great catalyst of academic momentum ready to slingshot me forward. Then, the world came to a halt, and I was told to turn around and go back inside. So with slumped shoulders, I did. Or at least I thought I did.
However, in the intervening days and weeks, I have realized that instead, we were all shoved off the front porch into something far more real than a clinical rotation—a master class in viral pandemics and their impact on humanity.
Here is the syllabus:
- How to talk to friends and family about medicine
- “Are viruses alive?”
- “Should I clean the outside of this package of cheese?”
- “How do they know who gave it to who?”
- How to stay up-to-date with rapidly changing literature
- How to make decisions in the absence of clear evidence
- How to develop systems to identify and support the needs of an organization
- How to care for yourself so you are able to support others
- How to advise legislators
- How to babysit a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old and talk to them about pandemics while their mom is at work as an ICU nurse
- How to share experiences with fellow students across the country
- How to investigate your own symptoms
While I initially thought my launch into medical society was being delayed, I see now that it was actually rapidly accelerated. In the past month, I have used my skills as an EMT, an improvement scientist, a friend, a daughter, and a medical student to show up for my community.
The COVID-19 curriculum has also taught me that being a doctor isn’t only about giving a perfect presentation, choosing the right antibiotic, or making the right diagnosis. It is about using your knowledge to identify a need in humanity and taking action to fill it.