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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.

Jackie is a non-traditional first-year medical student who is passionate about learning. If you've lost sight of Jackie, you can almost definitely find her either out running on one of Ann Arbor's trails or having two scoops of chocolate PB in a local ice cream shop.