This past February, I was lucky enough to pair two of my loves: medicine and economics. As a non-traditional student with a past life in economic consulting, the latter has helped to inform my experience of the former, and one of the more interesting ways that they overlap is when considering the transplant market. Dr. Alvin Roth (an economist!) won the Nobel Prize in 2012 for his work on the kidney transplant market, so when I signed up to shadow a transplant surgery through Wolverines for Life (WFL), I was so excited to learn that I would be observing a laparoscopic donor nephrectomy. WFL is a collaborative effort between the UM community, American Red Cross, Be the Match, Gift of Life Michigan, and Eversight Michigan, all dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation, and they coordinate a program that provides M1s with the opportunity to observe transplant surgeries.
This was the first surgery that I had ever observed, and I truly had no idea what to expect.
Learning to suture on pigs’ feet with the Emergency Medicine Interest Group (with my friend Boone!) was the closest I’d come to the OR before this experience.
I arrived at the OR as aggressively early as one might expect for a first-timer, befriended a nurse in order to figure out the scrubs “vending” machine, and somehow found myself outside of the operating room. I breathed an internal sigh of relief when I was told that I wouldn’t have to scrub in (that seems complicated), and then I followed the resident into the room.
It was truly incredible witnessing the beautiful choreography of a well-oiled operating room as the team prepped the patient. The surgeon requested some happy pop music, which played in the background as he did one final check and then made the first incision.
I don’t have the words to describe what it was like to see inside the human body for the first time. Medicine has a formal vocabulary for it, but the feelings that I was experiencing were much more similar to those that I get while listening to a symphony than to a med school lecture. The left renal vein strumming effortlessly across the midline, the pulse holding the beat as we crescendo’ed towards the kidney, the heart conducting the entire orchestra—everything was breathtakingly in tune with everything else, and I had front-row seats.
And suddenly, the kidney was in the surgeon’s hands. I snapped out of my trance and took a look at it, realizing how different it looked from the kidney of my anatomy donor. Just like Mozart’s Requiem sounds different when played by two separate orchestras, even though each is following the same score, two human bodies bring together the same organ systems to form two unique people. Our patient hopefully knew how much the gift of his kidney would change the life of its recipient, but he probably didn’t know how much it has also shaped mine.
During every major life transition, medical school included, one of the primary pieces of advice I have always been offered is some variation of, “Prioritize your wellness! Continue to engage in the things that you love.” I was, admittedly, skeptical about this prospect coming into medical school. How do you balance “Prioritize your wellness!” with “Buckle up—medical school is a lot”? Three months in, I’ve realized that these two things are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive. Medical school is a lot, but it would be a lot more difficult if I didn’t take time to do the thing that I love, which is running.
Sunrise over the Huron river during a summer run!
Running is, for me, a time to just be. When I’m out on the trail, I can’t be doing anything other than just experiencing the flash of a still-dangling autumn leaf out of the corner of my eye, or feeling the welcome sharpness of the winter air hit my lungs with each stride. It’s a time to unwind and remove myself from the stresses of everything back at the start of the trail—and even though the finish line is also the starting line (have to get home to shower!), I never fail to return home with a different perspective on something.
I’ve realized that medical school is, in so many ways, like running. (You knew this metaphor was coming, didn’t you?)
- It takes a lot of time, but it’s not time wasted—it’s time during which you are learning and exploring. My long training runs are one of my favorite parts of my week because with each step, I can literally feel my forward progress as I trudge along towards my goal. Medical school is the same way. Sometimes, it feels like we’ve been handed a straw and are asked to drink the entirety of Lake Michigan through that straw—but then, somehow, Friday arrives and it’s time to prepare for the quiz, and we realize that maybe we did learn a thing or two that week.
- Hills become views. At one point during a recent race, there was a huge hill up ahead, and I felt pretty disheartened as I approached and began to climb up it. But then, at the top, I picked up my head and noticed the incredible view that climbing that hill had afforded me, and it made it all worth it. Similarly, during those long nights in Taubman Library cramming for an exam, I feel like I’ll never learn it all—but then, when I speak with a patient and use a piece of knowledge I learned in class, it’s such an amazing moment.
- It’s about the people. A group of my friends (see photo!) came to meet me at the end of the Detroit Marathon, and knowing that they were there motivated me through to the finish. That’s also why medicine is so rewarding for me. The days can feel incredibly long, but when you have those amazing one-on-one interactions with patients—well, it makes it worth it.
Greeted by Hanna, Alec, and Boone at the finish!
That extended metaphor was cliché #1 of this piece, and here’s cliché #2: don’t stop doing what you love, neither in medical school nor in any of your other pursuits. Time spent doing that thing is not time spent away from doing what you “should” be doing; rather, it is time spent investing in yourself in ways that will make you a better physician (and person!) one day.
With haikus by fellow M1 Alec Bernard.
As I sit here happily flexing my creative writing muscles after our very first medical school exam, it’s hard not to be incredibly grateful for the new friends who made the transition to medical school so easy—because, frankly, trying to interpret which pink blobs on a histology slide are lung tissue would’ve been much harder without them.
Tight junctions in cells
Are nothing compared to the
Bonds that bind campers
One day back in June while flipping through Facebook, I discovered that a fellow incoming M1 Alec (the author of these haikus!) was planning a camping trip for a group of people before classes began. I immediately signed up, and a month later I found myself packing baggies of gorp and reviewing trail maps with 12 of my newest best (only?) Michigan Med friends.
Name games and packing
What’s your spirit animal?
We have too much cheese
Our first day took us on a seven-mile hike to a pristine lake-side campsite in Pinckney State Park. I’m always amazed by how easy it is to bond with people on a trail; something about wearing down the same dirt en route to a shared destination makes forming non-superficial connections remarkably easy. Or, maybe it was the single “bathroom” that we all had to share. Either way, as we played Euchre by headlamp that night, I was completely shocked by how close I already felt to my fellow campers. (Euchre, by the way, is a card game that I’m convinced all Michiganders are born knowing how to play. As a Jersey girl, I was not a Euchre-natural.)
You are never lost
As long as you are with friends
The trail calls to us
By day two, we had a group name: “CAMP,” or “Creating Adventurous and Mindful Physicians.” No group is legitimate without a snazzy acronym, so newly branded CAMP headed back out onto the trails. I loved our second day hike because not only did I feel incredibly close to my fellow hikers, but we also shared a lot of fantastic bonding activities planned by our fearless leader, Alec. My personal favorite was when we stopped next to a lean-to teepee in the woods and took the time to write a letter to our future selves. Surrounded by the calm whisper of wind through the leaves, I was able to reflect on what brought me to Michigan Medical School and what I was most excited and most anxious about. This activity was critical for helping me open up to both myself and my fellow CAMP-ers later that evening when we all shared some of our fears about medical school and realized that we are not alone in having those fears.
Med school here we come
I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to explore my new state with my new friends before classes started. Although CAMP now hangs out more in study rooms together than in tents, having them by my side this past month has made our class’ deep-dive back into biochemistry so much more manageable (and, for you science nerds out there, don’t think for one minute that we didn’t appreciate the “CAMP” / “cAMP” connection!).