I find it interesting, and more than a little curious, that the standard uniform for interviewing is strikingly similar to the standard uniform for funerals.
The notion came to me as I arrived at the histo-lab (turned informal meeting space) that was the site of the UMMS Interview Day lunch. Pausing to fill out a name tag for myself, I noticed that the room was already awash in muted colors. Basic black. Classic grey. Navy blue for the more intrepid. It was sort of eerie to see if I’m completely honest; most of the otherwise stately looking M0’s were only a hood or cloak away from looking like something off the Lord of the Rings (…and I’m not talking about the Elves…). Still, in stark contrast to the somber tones of their suits, the faces of the applicants trickling into the room were overwhelmingly ones of relief and good cheer. It made sense. It was Interview Day at UMMS, and they’d just survived the main event.
Before long, I spotted a familiar face–an applicant I’d met the night before at Pizza House. She, along with a few other applicants, had joined current Black Medical Association members to learn more about the group. Now she approached, smiling wide, with her newly gifted U of M tote slung casually over one arm.
As we chatted idly about her interview experience, I paused for a moment and took stock of where I was. Around me, the impeccable dress of the applicants stood in stark contrast to the jeans-and-t-shirt look of the med students. But there was something else…some understated quality, outside of dress or academic position, that separated the med students and the applicants. I struggled momentarily, unable to quite put my finger on it. And then it hit me.
These interviewees looked like they were twelve years old.
I mean it. There was something about their demeanors, the way they listened to our words with wide-eyed curiosity; the fact that each time they allowed themselves to laugh, it was in this hesitant, unsure sort of way. I’m telling you, these people were downright pre-pubescent. They had to be.
But then again, there was something about that notion that didn’t sit quite right. Afterall, we were, in all actuality, quite similar in age. Saying that they look twelve, would essentially be saying that I look twelve myself…
And that’s simply preposterous.
Hmm. It was true, though, that there was something separating us; something beyond the logistical difference that we were already in medical school and that they’d be starting up in a few months. As I folded over the thought in my mind, more med students began to file into the room. As my peers struck up conversation with the applicants, the histo-lab became transformed by the relaxed exchanges occurring between us and them; students separated by no more than a single year in real time, but much more than that in medical time.
That was it! I’d thought of the concept awhile back. It’s the best way I can come up with to describe what it’s like in medical school. Time simply runs differently. Take the real time (RT) concept of the weekend for example: for those running on RT, the weekend is a time of relaxation; a time to catch your breath from the craziness of the work week, sleep, and recharge. That’s true for us on medical time, conceptually at least; in practice however, for a lot of us, Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays are the days when we often push ourselves the hardest. Weekly flextime quizzes, which we are allowed take anywhere from Friday evening to Sunday night, are a key component of our weekend. An unabashed Sunday tester, I live for the relief that comes when I press the “submit” button on my quiz. But when you’re running on MT, any relief can be short-lived—because in medical school, the march of time doesn’t slow for anybody. The lines between evening, night, and morning blur easily (especially when you throw coffee into the mix). When you are in the thick of a sequence (we’re doing the endocrine & reproductive systems now) it feels like there was no time before that sequence (cardio what?) and that there’s no time after (what sequence are we doing next anyway?).
You don’t have to be in medical school to feel that time difference. A 20 minute call home feels short to the loved ones who recall the days when you could talk freely in the evenings. To you, it’s more than a call; it’s also the one break you’ll allow yourself for the next few hours. Like I said, the clock rarely stops when you’re on MT.
But there’s more. Seeing someone in your age range who isn’t in medical school starts to feel strange. They seem so different than you. Personally, when I see one on TV or walking around downtown, dressed in their finery–carefree, seemingly unburdened—I don’t really know who they are.
I feel it happening…whatever “it” is that turns people into doctors I mean. It starts in the “us” becoming the “them”. It starts with division, the pulling apart of yourself from the world you used to know. The interviewees seemed young that day, not because they are by real world standards, but because in our world, time is different. Soon, though, they’ll trade in those stuffy suits for scrubs and a pair of whatever-is-clean-this-week. Leaving that life, they would become us.
And time, for them, would change too.