ndab Ah Yes, Medical School: Lights!

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I've struggled over the past few years to define what it is really like being a medical student. I've tried hard to express the frustrations, the futility, the flatulence inherent in being at the way bottom of a totem pole of totem poles, restlessly hoping that I can reach out to people in need and really let them know what they are getting themselves into (and by "people in need" I naturally am referring to those among you who are still premed, not the patients). Unfortunately, this message does not seem to be sinking in, as I've received countless requests from people asking me to describe what it's like to actually be a medical student, on that glorious and humility-ridden track towards the elusive MD that everyone seems to want but no one really understands. While I will never pretend that I am so insightful as to have a concise answer to provide for you all, I thought this one moment I experienced during my gynecology rotation pretty much sums up what it’s like being a third year medical student. So rather than wax philosophical (what does that mean?), let me just describe the situation and have you infer from it what you would like:

This case started like many others, and by this I mean I spent a lot of time standing around amid the organized chaos that goes on before each and every operation, doing the Medical Student Shuffle* while the nurses set up the operating room in the appropriate fashion and the anesthesiologist intubated and sedated the patient. The attending physician came in, and he decided he wanted to adjust the orientation of the room. Specifically, he wanted the lights rearranged in a very specific way, and he asked me to adjust the position of one of the lights. Easy, right? What follows is a close approximation (to the best of my ability and memory) of the dialogue that subsequently ensued:

Attending: OK so the light is bent the wrong way, you’re going to have to move the whole lever.
[I begin moving it]
Attending: No, that’s wrong…you have to throw it.
Resident 1: Just move it to the left first.
[I adjust my movement of the light and begin pushing it in a different direction]
Nurse: No that’s all wrong.
Resident 2: No, push it the other way.
Attending: Throw it.
Nurse: No, here let me move it.
[Nurse moves in and starts pushing the light in the opposite direction, with my hand still on it.]
Resident 1: Now it’s even worse. You have to move the whole arm and push it the other way. Push it up a little.
Resident 2: Move it the other way.
Attending: You just have to throw it.
Nurse: Let me move it a different way.
[I continue trying to move the light in the position they want]
Resident 1: No, it’s all wrong, now the light is blocking the other light.
Nurse: Oh I guess I did that. Let me help him push it the other way.
Resident 2: Now pull. Pull.
Nurse: OK push it like I said.
Attending: Just throw it.
Resident 1: Move it leftways. Leftways.
Resident 2: OK first move it left, then pull, then-no no not like that!
Nurse: Let me move it more.
[I try a different method to rearrange the light once more]
Nurse: Don’t pull, push.
Resident 2: Pull it!
Resident 1: Now move it up and over the other light.
Resident 2: See you didn’t pull it.
Nurse: Look just push it, OK?
Attending: Throw it.
Resident 1: Wait, this is all wrong.
Attending: THROW IT!
Nurse: Here let me try some more.
Attending: THROW IT!!!

At this point, I grasped the handle firmly, channeled all the strength I could muster (which admittedly isn’t that much), conjured up all the experience I had as the greatest baseball player in the history of my local Maccabi Baseball League (all true), and threw the light apparatus as hard as I could.

It therefore will come as no surprise to you all that it came within 2 centimeters of decapitating the innocent anesthesiologist standing in the light’s way. Everyone then pointed and laughed at me for a long time, the attending came over and moved the light himself, and the surgery proceeded uneventfully.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what being a third year medical student is all about.

*The Medical Student Shuffle is a unique tribal dance that dates back to the first ever operation performed in Ancient Greece thousands of years ago, and has been used by medical students in an OR setting since that time with great success. This dance can be achieved by following a few simple steps, and there is no doubt that it is the key to impressing your superiors (and maybe, just maybe, picking up women at sleazy clubs):

1) Raise your arms up in a “surrender” position
2) Take a few steps back (extra points for adding style to the steps), moving as far away from the action as possible
3) Rest your back firmly against the wall
4) Keep your arms raised, but do not move again until spoken to

Well done.


Blogger B.Amelia said...

sounds pretty frustrating to me. But i guess it's the price we pay for wanting such a hard job. I heard ER is for the lunatics...haven't a clue as to why i want to venture that course yet

12:42 PM  
Blogger superdeens said...

hilar, hilar

2:30 PM  
Blogger Kate Mc said...

So what DID the attending mean by "throw it"? Did you ever figure that ou?

3:08 PM  
Blogger Kate Mc said...

Or out even. Man. I need to watch what I type.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Sufenta Girl said...

I laughed out loud at your dialogue. Nice description of the controlled chaos that is the OR.

4:27 PM  
Blogger mandy said...

At the first THROW IT, i would have been gotten to damned frustrated and said YOU THROW IT. Glad to hear you are still alive and posting blogs, but the time lapse is killin' me! I need a dose of your blog at least every 2-3 days---you're addictive. Keep up the good work and the world needs more docs or future docs like you with a sense of humor and heart.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Daphnewood said...

Don't fret. Seriously. I have never been through med school but was there for my husband when he went through the chaos. He recently told me that it took him until the second half of his intern year to actually feel like he wasn't in the way. Yes, you have to dance and feel useless but that will pass. You are too good to let bad tempers and vague instructions get to you. You are such a smart and compassionate fellow. I am sure you will succeed at whatever you choose. Not all surgeons are assholes. You might meet a nice one along the way. I shit you not ;)

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And for the denoument of your three years of med school pathos... instead of veering me off of torture path that is premed, upon perusing a couple of entries over the past couple of weeks (courtesy of a friend), your blog has reinforced my self-flagellating studies. Dare I quote you and say in advance "well played"?


4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back! I've been stalking your blog every day for a new post and lo and behold there are two!! Whoo-hoo!!

5:51 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

You are so funny! My humiliation starts in Jan. (but nursing student).

7:26 PM  
Blogger Alyssa said...

reading this blog makes me want to be a doctor. that's kinda scary. keep up the good work.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Throw it! Push! No pull! Dammit I said pull!

Sounds like sex with a Dominatrix.

Now, there's a picture for you.

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think you are "useless" as a third year med student, look back a couple of years to when you were a first year. I have worked with first year - Staff docs that have been doing medicine for 20+ years, and really it doesn't matter who they are, they are great if they have a good attitude about what they are there to do and can also laugh with all of us when the time is right. Keep up the great blogs and you never know someday we could cross paths in the med field.

3:16 AM  
Blogger lee said...


3:24 AM  
Blogger If I tell ya, I'll have to kill ya said...

Welcome back doc. Missed ya.

8:33 AM  
Blogger UnsinkableMB said...

You're not alone! I feel your pain. I'm a rookie OR nurse (and brand spanking new nurse). I'm sure we could share stories! Just keep doing your best. I recently completed a rotation in neuro where I felt a special bond with the med students. In other words, misery loves company. :)

8:52 AM  
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10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After a long wait for a doctor to examine my sons cut leg at our local A&E (that's British for ER), we were presented with a very young man for whom this must have been his first day on the job.

"Does it need stitching?" I asked him

"Hang on" he said, disappearing from the cubical

A few minutes later he returned with the nurse who's examined the cut some hours before.

"Does that need suturing?" he asked her.

"Yes" she said, eyes rolling.

He turned to me and with great authority announced,

"That needs stitching"

You are not alone mate.

11:44 AM  
Blogger GB, RN said...

Mmmmm...I love medical students. I didn't jump on the Med Student Love Train until after I finished nursing school and landed a job with a huge teaching hospital.

They taste just like chicken.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Darwin said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now. You've probably heard this before but if you ever do flunk out of med school (I doubt you will!) I'm sure you can make a good career as an author of some sort! Great writting skills!

Keep it up! Not a medic myself, I'm (hopefully!) gonna be one of the nameless geeks stuck in a lab that designs and invents the drugs that you guys prescribe, i.e. final year molecular biologist!

4:18 PM  
Blogger incidental findings said...

Wait until you drive the camera for laproscopic surgeries. You don't know complete and abject frustration till then. And this is why I didn't go into surgery.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

3rd year sounds a lot like motherhood to me, but with fewer perks.

5:56 AM  
Blogger missbhavens said...

I hate those goddamn lights.

5:59 AM  
Blogger Anhoni Patel said...

I would have been confused too. What the hell does "throw it" mean when talking about a light? How do you throw a light? And if the attending wanted it placed in such a specific way, why didn't he just reach up and do it himself. Of course, this is a hospital and he wouldn't lower himself to do something he could boss a 3rd to do. =)

7:06 AM  
Blogger Lolita said...

This is too funny...
By the way, I hope the sedation came BEFORE the tubes went in...

I suppose anesthesia is necessary not so much for the pain that is inherent to the procedure/surgery, but mostly to keep the patient from being traumatized (PTSD)from what actually goes in the OR...

Good job on the blog!

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a truly great blog here. Third year med students aren't completely useless, their primary purpose seems to be for entertainment.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Here's some info on Waxing Philosophical: http://www.answerbag.com/q_view.php/15964

Thanks for the laugh. I sure needed it this week!

1:35 PM  
Blogger joyfish said...

So when do you get to do something interesting?

2:31 PM  
Blogger AA said...

So... truly.. what the hell does "throw it" mean?

10:49 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

How frustrating!! Can't wait for my turn with the lights. I'm sure I'll screw it up just as bad, if not worse. But in that situation, there's nothing you can do... can't please all the people all the time. I guess that's what med school is all about.

Especially liked your definition of the Med Student Shuffle. You could turn that into a huge dance craze.

3:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In surgery a medical student's job is frequently cutting the suture ends after the surgeon ties the knot. After being berated for the umpteenth time for cutting the wrong length, a classmate of mine said to the the surgeon, "too long or too short?" He was kicked out of the OR. At least he didn't have instruments thrown at him like other students.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is awesome. I discovered it last night and went to bed at 4 a.m. because I couldn't stop reading it. Yes, I can't believe I admitted that - although it's a compliment for you and just shows how much of a loser I am.
Now, I just wanted to ask you if you ever watch the show SCRUBS. Funniest thing ever. Zach Braff... oh man! Love that man... I need to find myself a good-old-successful Jewish boy, very much like yourself or Zach.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I have been in EXACTLY THE SAME SITUATION. There's no way to win. Especially not if you're me, and you're 5'3" and you can barely reach the damn light, never mind adjust it.

Except I topped the whole thing off by backing into a sterile field, which REALLY made the nurse happy, let me tell you.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is too funny! My parents wanted me to be a doctor badly (I didn't make it to the MCAT), but I think I should send them some posts so they can have a better understanding of what I would have had to go through. Makes you wonder how people actually learn things...I mean, did you ever figure out how to throw a light fixture? What the hell does that mean?

I would have cried.

8:20 PM  
Blogger The Red said...

At least you get to do something besides retract :o) And the medical student shuffle description is spot-on... I saw it happen today shortly after leaving the haven of my office and wandering out to the ICU and it was all I could to to keep from doubling over when the poor little MSIII backed up against a wall and held up his hands as I walked by in my longer-than-yours white coat.

Linked to you on my blog, Faker - keep up the fabulousness.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Unequivocal_Prowess said...

My family is in medicine, but that's not really why I read your blog. Not being in the medical field myself, I can tell you that I am in my second year teaching and I was told that once I had "my classroom" that I would be in complete control of my career. Although I have passed my residency year teaching-and yes, there is a residency year teaching-I still spend all of my time being pushed around by superiors, mentors, administrators, parents, students, other teachers, the special ed kids, you name it and they push me around. Your post struck me because I was thinking that I didn't even know that I signed up for all of this bullshit, but it looks like it came anyways. Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one suffering from the pains of proving my worth!

4:32 PM  
Blogger DrG said...


Documenting my experiences too. Consider exchanging links?

4:34 PM  
Blogger Anika From Darwin said...

Hehe, love your work doc!!!

I think you should write a book!! :D

5:09 PM  
Blogger AznMarkofDaFiji said...

Hahahha! I've read most of your blog but this was one of the funniest in my book!

I appreciate your time spent on these!

10:39 PM  
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Anonymous Cheap Steroids said...

The situation looks really very funny. But I don't think that the profession is strange, most likely people are strange!

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Blogger peace said...

I burst in hysterical laughter...read it to mom..we had a good laugh...thank you

7:58 PM  

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