It was the first day of my third year of medical school. I was assigned to an outpatient OB / GYN clinic. I woke up early, only had a coffee for breakfast that I would later regret, wrapped a hesitant stethoscope around my neck, not knowing if this specialty required such a tool, and marked the address on Google Maps. After nearly 16 months of virtual medical school, I was entering uncharted territory. He was used to sweatpants, hours of computer practice problems, and midday naps when he couldn’t distinguish between vasculitis. Today was my first day of real world medicine.
I met my tutor and sighed in relief in a matter of minutes. She was cheerful, enthusiastic, and most of all, amazing with her bedside manners. She was my kind of person. We spent the morning going over the basics of the office, how to use a speculum, the intricacies of online medical records, and most importantly, where the clinic restrooms were located. In an hour, we had a system together.
For each patient, the nurse would check if they were willing to be cared for by a student. Once approved, I would rehearse the questions I had been taught to ask during Zoom medical school and knock on the door. With each encounter, I felt more confident, more like a doctor, and more like where I belonged. I was just getting my adrenaline pumping fueled by history taking, hand hygiene, and introducing myself as a sought-after third-year medical student.
After each meeting, my preceptor and I would return to her office and discuss the patient before the nurse told us where the next patient was. As my preceptor chatted happily as she wrote the progress note for the last patient, her voice trailed off and her smile faded. She whispered that the next patient will probably say no to a student in the room; her last pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 13 weeks. She is here for a 13 week pregnancy checkup and to top it off, she is a doctor. To our surprise, the nurse came in and told us that the patient had said yes to a medical student.
He knew the seriousness of the situation. When my tutor entered the room in front of me, I introduced myself and immediately thanked the doctor for allowing me to learn from this experience. Clearly nervous, the doctor gave me a weak smile and said, “You’re welcome. I know what it’s like to be in your place. “After some teasing, my tutor grabbed the doppler to find the baby’s heartbeat. Hush. He moved it around the lower abdomen. Hush. She told me it could be tricky. Finding a heartbeat so early in pregnancy. More silence. She turned to the shocked doctor and told her to “stop letting your mind go where it is going.” The doctor nodded, absolute silence. My tutor told me to take the ultrasound and plug it in. Trying to stay cool under pressure and also not admit that I had never used an ultrasound before, I spun the machine over, plugged it in, and luckily found the power button quickly. A generous squeeze of gel, my preceptor in a matter of seconds found the girl healthy and bouncing on the black-and-white ultrasound screen. Instead of silence, the doctor poured out a wave of tears of relief. I tried to hide it, but I also cried.
That’s what was missing during Zoom medical school: the human connection. No Google Meet session can teach you the vulnerability and emotional turmoil that patients face. No online questionnaire can prepare you for medical uncertainty. And no simulated patient encounter can mimic the crude knee-jerk reaction a woman has when she sees her live baby that she once thought was in distress. I will always be grateful to that doctor for opening a window into his life for me. Now, I will always say “yes” when a nurse asks me if a medical student can get in.
Kira kopacz is a medical student.
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