Oh how I love my medical students!
Every other year I meet a new group of about 10 third year students, at the dawn of their clinical careers. What a privilege! I lead a monthly small group for a class called Personal Transition to the Profession. I have written about this honor before, describing how
- My only job in this class is to love these students into the amazing doctors they are meant to be
- They help me see physician burnout from different perspectives
- Their experience of medical culture resonates with my own
Monthly group meetings are just enough to start to know any one person after two years, and then they disperse and I grieve the loss, just until my new group starts. After ten years of stimulating conversations on professionalism and the humanity of medicine, I still feel anxious about my impact on these bright, insightful learners. Did I do a good job? Did I make a difference? Did their time with me matter at all, or was it a monthly waste of time?
This June, I finally faced these questions head-on during a coaching call with Christine. What are my strengths, what value do I bring? How can I distill the central learning objective each month? How can I connect more effectively? We settled on some ideas for setting expectations and being more direct about goals and touchstones. I instituted check-ins at the beginning of each meeting, something I should have started years ago.
This month’s topic was open; students were invited to write and discuss whatever was on their minds. Blog posts and check-in comments resonated around words like exhaustion, sleep, and longing for connection. So rather than delve into the content of their writing, I simply asked how I could help. One student, ever honest and forthright, said, “let us go home and get to bed.” The air felt heavy, almost forlorn… but not hopeless. I found myself monologuing a few minutes about appreciative inquiry, and finally asked them, a little desperately, “What is the most loving thing someone has said to you this week?” and then, “or how have you felt loved this week?”
Slowly, small vignettes of connection, meaning, and hope emerged. The student who wanted to get home to bed had received an email from a former preceptor, whose patient finally started and stayed on much needed antidepressant medication, which the doctor attributed to our student’s contact with the patient during his primary care rotation. Another’s parents had driven into the city early in the morning to lend her their laptop after she had spilled water on hers. Other students had connected with family members and friends, who expressed pride and encouragement. Once again I was overcome with love for these young colleagues, and I could not help but tell them: I have one job here, and that is to make sure you know you’re loved in your training. I am not here to evaluate you. You will all finish, you will all succeed. In the time I have with you, my only objective is to hold you up in the process. I made sure they all have my cell phone number. I encouraged them to call me if they ever need anything.
Two students (and one’s wife) came to my house for dinner tonight. It was supposed to be everybody, but I neglected to send a confirmation email so people weren’t quite sure if I meant my invitation last month (probably because I had planned for them to come over last month and then cancelled on them that week). We ordered pizza and salad, I fried some potstickers, and we sat around the kitchen island with my kids, just talking. We are all nerds. We love to read, to learn. S’s wife is a resident at my former hospital, and knows my friends there. They have a book club there now, and this year’s theme is wellness. She asked for suggestions, so I lent her my copy of My Grandfather’s Blessings. She and S also borrowed our season one DVDs of The Big Bang Theory.
Our group will meet at a local restaurant after next month’s class. We will plan (better) another evening meal at my house in the spring. In the meantime, I will extend an invitation to each of them to come down if they ever need a break from school, a change of scenery, or just to feel a little extra love. I have been where they are, and I remember how much I appreciated the empathy and compassion of my elders in the profession. I still do.
How does this all make me better? In medicine we talk all the time about the calling to care for patients. But caring for one another, our colleagues and trainees, is equally important. It keeps us and our souls whole, feeds us so we can keep doing the work. My students recharge me, inspire me, and keep me young. What an absolute honor to know them.