We all lined up outside the room, white coats on, looking almost like real doctors. We discussed what it would be like to each other, anxiously and nervously awaiting this inaugural part of medical school. When the door opened, we filed in, ready to meet our first patients. But there was nothing we would do for them. They were already dead.
The very first class of medical school is gross anatomy, where you learn every little detail of the human body. The key aspects of this class are not only being able to describe structures in the body, but also being able to identify them. Pictures are models are good for studying purposes; however, seeing something pointed out to you in a book or clearly visible on a model is much different than seeing something in a real person, and since we are working to become doctors, seeing real people is probably a bit more relevant. Now, it wouldn’t be practically (and also a bit immoral) to use live people as studying subjects for their insides, so we must resort to the next best thing: cadavers. These people, and their families, make the choice to forgo their funeral and become our teaching models. They have willing donated themselves for the soul purpose of letting several classes of people to learn the most fundamental part of medicine.
At my school, anatomy is done during the summer, and it is the only class we take. Every day consists of lectures of a specific section of the body followed by several hours of lab, where we go over the lecture material covered in lecture that morning. Now, whoever came up with the “drinking from a fire hose” metaphor about medical school was spot-on. The material we are expected to learn is not necessarily hard or complicated, but the issue is the depth of understanding about the material we are expected to have in the incredibly short amount of time. To put it in perspective, we recently finished the head and neck unit, which consisted of learning every bone, muscle, artery, vein, lymphatic component, and nerve, along with all of the actions of these components, all of which we covered in just over two weeks. So the transition to medical school is essentially learning how to become a sponge for information.
During the craziness of learning the minutiae of anatomy, we are also learning how to apply this back to why we are in medical school: taking care of people. This brings me back to anatomy lab, which is a constant reminder that everything we are doing will inevitably fail, and that each patient will end up like one of our donors. When I walk into that lab, in addition to learning what nerve travels inside the cheek at a certain level, I can’t help into glancing into the eyes of the donor, and thinking about what kind of person he was like when he was alive. Was he a father? Was he a doctor? Or maybe he was a garbage man? In the end, it doesn’t really matter who he was, because right now he is the best learning tool for me so that I can help others stall this fate just a little bit longer. Because of him, I get to be a doctor, which is the best gift I can possibly receive this summer.
And so I am unable to save my first patients. But because of them, one day soon I will be able to save countless others. Because of them, I will be a doctor.