5 Lessons I Learned During Undergrad Clinical Experience

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This summer I focused my attention towards pursuing clinical experience in healthcare in order to find out if I was indeed interested in medicine and also to find my likes and dislikes. I shadowed in my local hospital’s ER, worked as a lifeguard, and volunteered as a third-crew member with the local EMS. I intend on applying and ultimately enrolling in a Post-Baccalaureate Pre Medical program. Here are my top 5 lessons that I learned this past summer from the experiences.

  1.  Challenge Yourself:

Take risks. The only way you’re going to learn something is if you go big. Watch the best and then imitate. Don’t worry about getting something wrong. Capitalize on your mistakes and take them as a free lesson to better yourself for next time around. Those who end up at the top of the mountain didn’t just land there.

An example of this was when I was shadowing in the ER and a few new cases came up where the physician I was with told me, “Sometimes there are cases we all just hate and then there are some cases where we have absolutely no clue what we’re getting into. I’m telling you man, those are the cases you need to take or else you’re missing out on learning something new.” It’s so easy to stick to what you know, the mundane, so we play it safe. But what happens when you go beyond the illusion of safe boundaries we trap ourselves in? You have to take risks because that’s how you expand your horizons and learn. That’s a pearl of wisdom you can take and apply to academic settings as well. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

2.  Be Thorough:

During an emergency, it is critical to work fast, efficiently yet thoroughly which can be difficult under all of the extra stress added to the emergency. But I often found that even though people were using our services, there rarely was a dire emergency. That being said, emergencies aren’t planned, and it’s important that you practice practice practice for when it happens. Even though I’m just a third “volunteer” with the EMS, I’m expected to have basic life support skills which requires a lot of knowledge I was thankful to have learned from lifeguarding. My biggest challenge was learning all the different gear that I would be required to use in order to put in an iv line, take blood pressure, measure blood glucose, administer first aid, and even take a thorough medical history. It was important that I mentally prepare when going on a call so that I could do exactly what I needed to do. I messed up plenty of times at the beginning but I told my supervisor that I was still learning and that I wasn’t yet able to perform at my best. I eventually did and have continuously been offered to take an EMT class that would be paid for by the group. Still haven’t decided if I want to or not. Being thorough is a professional skill that allows you to increase the quality of your work by rounding all the bases and checking your own work and the product of asking for feedback and help constantly until you’re able to be a smooth operator.

This is my favorite example of being thorough and seeing things through to the end: “We’re a different kind of breed and I’m telling you this because you’re on the inside now…” I was energized when I heard the physician I was shadowing say that to me. He went on, “Sometimes I just get flustered why people can’t go the extra mile to see things through.” His comments came after a nurse called the dictation room that we were in and said that the patient left without the discharge papers. The doctor said, “Well where did they go?” the nurse replied, “I don’t know, probably the parking lot.” This was the most inspirational part of it all- the doctor got up and ran the discharge papers to the patient in the parking lot. “We’re a different kind of breed.”

3.  Communicate with your team:

Healthcare professionals rely on communication primarily for the sharing of patient information. This was extremely important in all of my clinical experiences this summer. In lifeguarding, when you activate an emergency activation plan for someone who has passed out, you have a group of lifeguards who don’t know what’s going on and it’s up to you to direct them to practice their skills in life-rescue. An example of this is when dealing with a deep water suspected neck injury, anywhere from 2-5 guards will be in the water assisting and you have to be able to effectively delegate to others and direct others to get a back-board, call 911 and request an ambulance, get the AED, etc. Mental prep is important, again, because emergencies aren’t planned and if you get caught unexpectedly, you can freeze up and everything can go to hell if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Information is shared with the EMS when you arrive on scene and a fire crew is already there but it is your responsibility to gather information in order to transport to a hospital and give them the information. Communication skills are required all throughout healthcare. I found it extremely useful to write down everything. For example, I’d document vitals and important pt information when answering calls with the EMS that I had found useful to the ER when I was shadowing in there. Having this understanding of the flow of information and what is relevant and not made for very efficient lines of communication.

Communication outside of the clinical experiences mirrors the same professional qualities. Sharing your thought process with a professor when answering open-ended questions, sharing your ideas in a group and expressing what you mean in general all play extremely important roles in building a professional foundation for oneself that will, again, make you efficient. This is a skill I’m glad to have worked on because it goes along with the other lessons in taking a risk but being able to get feedback on how to handle something differently. It’s part of growing up when you realize that not everything you say or do is the right thing.

4.  Compassion:

Patients are much more than what a brief history or chart can summarize. They are people who lead lives we may or may not be able to understand, but healthcare professionals are gifted with the ability to aid, guide and even heal people when they are most vulnerable. Sometimes during emergencies there doesn’t seem to be time to have extra conversation outside of what we’re taught to do. Leaving the safe harbors and going beyond what the books instruct and simply having one simply organic and unscripted social interaction is all it takes sometimes to change a person’s life, no matter how small it may seem to you. As Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really know another person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

My favorite example of this was when a 2 year old came into the ER after having fallen and cut her head. The mother told the doctor I was shadowing that the young patient was shy and scared. The doctor changed the way he was speaking to relate to the patient and asked to see the patient’s doll and then talked with her for a little bit explaining how his daughter used to have a doll like that. He then went to check the ears by first saying he was going to check the mother’s ears and then checked the patient’s ears, checked the mom’s throat and then checked the patient’s throat. After this was done and we left the patient’s room, the doctor told me that he spent the extra time and that he thought it would make all the difference for trusting doctors down the road so that the patient wouldn’t ever be scared or at least as scared for the next time. That was really intriguing to me but it was just a raw, organic interaction that I witnessed that you wouldn’t see in any book. There were many of those interactions I observed with the physicians I shadowed. It wasn’t every time if emergencies were going on, but when it happened, I was always amazed by the connection that was made between the physician and patient.

5.  You’re Only Human:

Live, lose, learn and above all- love what you do and those around you. Having balanced all of these clinical experiences this summer I really found myself enjoying helping others at the end of the day. From small interactions such as a wave or a smile when wearing a lifeguard uniform at a pool, an EMS outfit out in public, or even when in the room with a physician, comforting others who are in any sort of pain by putting a hand on the shoulder and reassuring them that they are the ones that matter will make you feel proud of yourself at the end of the day in a great way. However, when things go wrong, it can take its toll. “You can’t suffer with them (the patient) or else you’ll go down with it,” one of the physician’s I shadowed told me. They often utilize crude humor in the ER physican’s dictation room in order to keep at bay from all the animosity. Sometimes the humor fails and you need others to be there for you, and that’s an important part of the room that rarely gets talked about. Don’t ever suffer alone, always know who’s in your corner and who to go to when you need them most. Always learn from your mistakes but also realize sometimes things are out of your hands when all else fails. At the end of the day, you’re a product of the culmination of your words and actions. Working in the emergency setting this summer really showed me that it’s important to make the most out of each experience and to be grateful at the end of the day for all of the experiences that I have had, all that I have and all that I will have.

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Path to Pre-Med

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As indescribable as it was at the time, let me attempt to reflect with you the most serene moment I’ve ever experienced. I was frozen in time once, a suspended body, confused which way was up and which way was down; but it didn’t matter. The way the light scattered and danced around the bottom, inviting me to join. The calm feeling of introspective peace. Everything seemed to portray its natural beauty in a way I never had experienced before. I never felt more alive than when I was drowning. I like to separate the two events, however, because both were experienced in very different moments. I had dove into the near freezing lake in order to capture a dramatic ending to a documentary I was filming for my senior year project for an English class reflecting my career as a competitive swimmer. When I dove into the water, what seemed to have been minutes, turned out to be seconds on film. I experienced a bend in time for a moment while going into shock, and in that moment is where I felt at peace. Finally coming to the surface, muscles tensed with no feeling and unable to voluntarily move, I took what I perceived to have been the biggest and best gasp for air that you are anyone else has ever experienced. I still to this day don’t know how I did it, but swam so fast back to the dock, I still clearly remember not being able to feel anything but somehow make my way back to the dock.

I never was a solid student growing up. The highlight of my high school career consisted of making Honor Roll, once, and being elected at graduation as the, “Scholar Athlete,” which had been largely contended between many athletes who now apart NCAA Division One teams across the United States. I graduated high school with average marks and an Advanced Regents diploma, and had been recruited the coming August for St. Lawrence University, a small private liberal arts institution in my home state in the North Country of New York. I was the top recruit and had a lot of expectations going into the program. It was my intention to be part of the Pre-Medical program that they offered and swim on the NCAA Division Three team. I chose St. Lawrence because of its athletic program that promised commitment and excellence in the classroom over sport.

That wasn’t the case for me. Swimming had been a quintessential portion of my life and up till the second month of the season. The coach was unbearable. Even though he told me I was his best recruit and could outperform any of the team, he wanted more from me. He wanted me to spend more time in the gym and more time in the pool than I could offer. I wanted to be dedicated to my studies, but didn’t know how, further, I couldn’t balance swimming and my studies for the life of me. It hadn’t occurred to me until a semester later, that failing to prepare had been the story that can parallel to almost every great demise. My high school academic habits had followed me to college and made the transition that much harder. Without swimming to keep me rooted to my priorities, the remainder of my first semester in college was an absolute wreck. At the end of the semester I had a 1.44 G.P.A, taking courses I wasn’t able to work hard enough for. I failed General Biology 1 and had dropped General Chemistry 1, deciding that Pre-Med wasn’t going to work out. I gave up. I didn’t care, there was no way I was going to fail again next semester, and I didn’t.

I was notified that I had been placed on Academic Probation and would be suspended for the semester to re-evaluate my academic endeavors. It was suggested by my advisors that I appeal because they knew that I had been working my tail off towards the end of the semester to boost what was left of my grades. With the proper letters of recommendations I received from not only professors and advisors, my peers also were able to write for my support, recollecting the times that I had spent getting my act together. The academic advisory committee reviewed and accepted my appeal under the parameters of having to meet with an academic advising counselor every week to track my progress the next semester and get my average above a 2.0 or else I would be suspended.

I had planned over the break on how I was going to refocus and become disciplined. I did such by limiting my temptations to drink. Having heard of a tragedy that occurred at a near university of a drunk walking home from the bar getting hit by a train while crossing the tracks seemed to resonate in my mind. I decided to create a sober shuttling service that was extremely productive and supportive to my school’s student population. I gained the respect of the local authorities and community. By doing this I learned a few important lessons in organization and effectively communicating with others. I was able to do the sober shuttle on the weekends instead of go out drinking, and get up the next morning early enough that nobody else would be up and study and work hard. It all seemed to pay off, for at the end of the semester, my semester G.P.A was a solid 3.0. By then, I knew I could do the work in college, I just had to change my priorities and learn to try different learning techniques.

Going into the summer, having changed my academic plans for pursuing an Economics and Government route, I found myself being offered a summer job at a camp up in Maine. I accepted the position as a tennis counselor with one of my good friends from school and was liberated to the exquisite nature that the area had to offer. I was surrounded by a beautiful lake, luscious woods, and mountains all around. I felt that all the stress I had accumulated thus far had been removed, and I felt rejuvenated by nature. However, I seem to have started to get that feeling again. It was a feeling I knew couldn’t last for long. I felt at peace being at the camp, but at the same time, I knew some unheard of diabolical scheme was brewing.

I can’t begin to explain the high I was riding on going into my sophomore year at St. Lawrence. Within the first few weeks I had found out the results of our class government elections and that I had been elected Class President. This was mainly due to the support driven by all of the friends I had made from driving the semester before. I had come to be known as, “the Sober Saint,” by school and local newspapers. I was also invited to live in a theme house which, at the time, seemed like a great place to live with a great group of people.

Things took a nefarious turn very quickly in the semester. I don’t like to dwell on it, but when I speculate, I seem to think that everything started to crumble as soon as I joined a fraternity. I had been pressured to do so when I started school at St. Lawrence due to a family friend who promised all the great perks that go along with the being in the brotherhood. Hindsight, I shouldn’t have, I had enough on my plate already. School was going along great though, my courses were solid and I was thrilled to be on my way towards chasing down my goals. I started to lose my old friends though. Living further away from campus will do that, I guess. I thought it was fine though, because I was making new friends through the fraternity.

I have to warn you now. As I take you through my journey to becoming back interested in medicine, I have to take you through the lowest point in my life. We all have a story of beating the odds at some point in our life, sacrifices are necessary however. There’s a point in time however, where our routine becomes so mundane, that even the slightest disturbance can throw us off our path. Why is it whenever we let our guard down, it’s the unexpected that delivers the final blow?

During the semester, the fraternity hosted a plethora of events that we would have to perform in order to be picked after the period to be initiated into the brotherhood. Some tasks were more radical than others, but still brought on a lot of stress. I contemplated the thought of just quitting but some of the brother’s had assured me it was done as tradition and also assured me that they didn’t hate me, but that’s just how fraternities are during pledging. The light that set fire to my planned future played out accordingly: it was the pledges semi-final task to go into one of the campus-eateries, dressed in suits and glasses with plates that had different numbers on them, and rate girls as they passed by. Foolishly, without a lapse in judgment, I joined in with the group. It wasn’t a few days later when our whole pledge class was called in individually to meet with the dean of students to discuss what had happened. It was their intent to determine if this was a hazing event we had been victims of. We had kept our mouths shut and didn’t say anything. I was closely analyzed by the Dean of Students who had viewed my academic record and saw that I didn’t have the grade necessary to take part in Greek Life and also that I was Class President, and subjected me to a more heated investigation. A few meetings later, I finally cracked and told them everything but insisted it wasn’t a hazing event. I told them about my academic history but also told them my grades for the semester and that I was still improving maintaining a 3.25 semester G.P.A. During Finals Week, as part of an investigation, the campus security had come to my theme house where I was studying and investigated my room for evidence involving the scandal. Upon their investigation, the found a beer can on my table, a candle that was lit, no evidence pertaining to the scandal, and 4 marijuana joints outside of my room that they claimed at the time were mine. The next day I had been summoned in front of a Dean’s Panel who asked about all of these things. I first quickly dismissed the marijuana accusation assuring them I didn’t smoke and would be inclined to take a drug test, followed by showing them that there had been 4 more joints that were added there over the night. They dismissed that and followed with the other accusations which also included yelling at administrative officials- security- during their investigation. In truth I had never been more livid in my life, and would be lying if I said that none of this effected my performance on my finals with the problems I was having dealing with my anxiety. It was the final verdict that I had played a role in trying to cover-up and attempting to hinder a school sanctioned investigation, and suggested that I was heading down a self-destructive path and that I should a take a semester off to re-evaluate my academic and social goals at St. Lawrence. Had I choose to, they would have re-admitted me the following semester.

I tried to appeal again, with supporting evidence against my claims. I was quick to defend myself and quick to throw the blame elsewhere on someone else. I felt that there was no way this was happening to me and that the people responsible for my suspension had been irrational in their verdict. I had no clue how I was going to tell my parents, and so I didn’t for a few weeks into the winter break. I was in agony. After hearing that my appeal had been declined halfway through the winter break, I was at rock bottom. Nobody in the world felt the way I did. I was scared to face the consequences, not of the school, but of my parents. When I told my parents, they were in shock. There was no way that they could comprehend how I was suspended. Eventually they felt for me. They felt for me that I had to go through this all by myself without the support of my parents who would have fought skin and teeth for me. They assured me that they’d get me back on track, and heaven knows that started that moment. When I confided in my parents, I felt the moment again, of coming back up and gasping for air. I was reborn and from that moment on, I haven’t stopped striving towards my untapped potential.

I figured the way I would be getting back into schools was through my talent of swimming. Coaches would definitely be able to get me into programs by pushing hard enough, by then I had lost almost a full year of swimming, and started the next day, training harder than ever before. I had almost 8 weeks left before I started school again, where I enrolled in a local community college who has been quintessential in getting me back on track and assuring my success by going above and beyond. Finger Lakes Community College rekindled my passion for medicine. Coupled with the pressure to get me back on track, my parents who both are Family Practitioners, set me back on the track I feel I was destined to be on. My parents picked out my core courses in getting back on track: General Biology 1, General Chemistry 1, College Algebra, Computer Science 1, and I got to pick one elective which helped keep me mentally fit and open to the possibilities I had been striving for, Stress Relaxation through Exercise, which really was a yoga class. Last semester, I channeled my anger into a drive to succeed. I was passionate every waking moment. My regiment was strict and I was discipline. No distractions at home, no social life, only books to study, the pool to swim, and the gym to work-out as soon as it opened at 5:30am every other day. It worked. I was realizing my true potential. A’s after A’s after A’s. I was hungry to learn, I didn’t just want to learn what was on the tests, I wanted to learn how I could put everything I was learning to practical everyday relation. I became so mechanical in the way that I approached everyday life. Nothing could break me, hinder me, or drive me away from my goal of pursuing medical school. I started to study for the MCAT by going through the sections and finding out the units that were on the test and sought perfecting that unit. Externally, I felt I had lost everything; internally, I knew I had everything I needed to succeed. I didn’t need friends to hang out with or go out, I was content with learning. I didn’t feel the need to socialize in school, that wasn’t my purpose. It was suggested by my Yoga instructor that I start a journal that I could write in to channel all of the personal information I was keeping inside without the social life, so I did. Every Sunday I would reflect on my week, make academic and athletic goals that I would try my best to hit every week. The way I was seeing it, writing down my goals was simply adding fuel to the fire. Sunday I considered my low-day. I wouldn’t do as much as I did throughout the week, but felt it was a time to reflect on my life during longer swims. I would think about how a series of unfortunate events led to a sense of pride and opened a door back to my dream. I would think about all the people in my life who had contributed to my success- my parents, my younger brother, my professors, and the children that I was in charge of over the previous summer. The way I was perceiving this was, it’s not always about who impacts your life, rather, it’s the ways you can profoundly impact other’s.

I ended the semester with 4 A’s and a B with a semester G.P.A of 3.884, and a cumulative G.P.A of 3.477. I also ended up making the Dean’s List which was the first and highest academic achievement that is now placed in front of my trophy case. I decided in the end that I wasn’t going to transfer after last semester, instead, I am now taking 17 credits over the summer in accelerated 2, 6week semesters. Upon the completion of the summer semester, I will receive my Associate’s degree in Science. I am currently at the midterm of my first semester and focused on maintaining all A’s. On the side, I am swimming still, playing tennis three days a week, learning Organic Chemistry, and restudying Physics, while also studying for the MCAT. I’ve lost almost all my friends, and filtered the people I used to be friends with because I see myself as having matured throughout the years in my own way that is divergent to their outcomes. I tend to sometimes find myself in an emotional stock, thinking about how my life has turned out thus far. I feel an overwhelming sense of clarity it knowing that I have rehabilitated myself, but know it isn’t an easy road. I virtually lost my support group of old friends and replaced them with the love of my family and the love of my education. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve lost that original burst of energy I had the first semester, but my education is still on target, I’m hoping that I will start to adapt to the different social setting as I continue in the fall to finish med school requisites and continue to prepare for taking the MCAT in January. After that spring semester, I will be enrolling at another school to finish my undergrad years as a true scholar athlete taking part in the Swimming team, as well as the Tennis team and pursuing an Anthropology major.

It’s really easy to lose yourself. We tend to become comfortable on a long enough timeline, repeating daily motions that we lose sight of our goals and the reasons we set out to inspire us along the way. It’s important to never mistake a punch for a knock-out, the delivering blow. We make mistakes, it’s a natural part of being human. How we manage getting back up on our own two feet is the legacy that we all subtly and profoundly identify who we are in the hopes that we can inspire others along the way.

My desire to become a doctor stems from my actually seeing first-hand the work physician’s do when I’m out with my parent’s and a patient comes up and to see how grateful they are that my parents are making such an impact on their lives. My passion to help and serve others whether it is delegating class issues, teaching a young child to play tennis or swim, or teach them that even in our darkest hour it is important that we rise to the occasion and don’t give up. I am driven by my love for the sciences and the way that all humans, no matter race, color, beliefs, all share similar compositions and processes.

I dare you to fail, I dare you to learn, but foremost I dare you to succeed.