Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reflections on the Pre-Residency Experience

I was an Internal Medicine Pre-Resident for 21 days. Today was my last day. Pre-Residency is part of this elaborate evaluation scheme designed by the hospital training committee to screen for applicants that will match well with the training program in terms of academic aptitude, adaptability to the system, and I think most importantly, work ethic. I realize now that in many ways, this is much better than the automated matching system they use in the US. For one, we actually get to experience working for a few weeks in the hospital, in the very setting where we’ll be immersed for the next three years. In the US, all this experiencing is captured into one whole-day visit, during the interview. If you’re lucky enough, you get invited for a second-look.

Pre-Residency allowed me to refocus my mind and my heart on clinical work. I’ve been away from clinical practice for a few months, almost a year, really. It takes a while to get back into the groove. The three-week foretaste allowed me to remind myself of the need to balance the clinical and the academic side of medicine. It brought to fore all the dusty boxes of (what I thought were useless and trivial) medical information I learned from medical school, those phrases I highlighted in books using colorful markers and remembered only for the sake of tests and which I never thought I’d use.

I have never experienced being a resident before. I had an idea of the kind of work the residents did but it wasn’t a complete picture. I was a kid on the outside looking in. The past three weeks gave me an insider viewpoint and what I saw fascinated me. Residents, especially those in the first year, are in a very unique position to CARE for their patients. Their constant presence on the floor gives them the opportunity to develop something more than rapport with the people they admit into their wards; they the golden opportunity to establish genuine relationships with patients. This is something I have set forth as one of my goals when I made the decision to go into Internal Medicine.

For this realization and reminder, I have one first year resident to thank. He was my resident-buddy for about a week. This was enough time for me to witness the way he interacted with his patients and his genuine care for their welfare, something that went beyond facilitating labs and making sure they were discharged alive at the end of a set period of time. This isn’t to say the other residents I worked with were horrible. They were excellent in their own way but this guy went the extra mile. He held his patients’ hands, spent time explaining the case to them and their families, and, short of praying for them, he said “God bless” as he exited the room each and every morning after the routine morning visit. By the time these patients are discharged, this resident not only knew his patients completely, but he also knew the family members and the watchers.

By way of completing my requirements for the US Match, I drafted a “Personal Statement” wherein I outlined the reasons why I wanted to go into Internal Medicine. This essay was a chance for me to organize my thoughts and formally state on paper my reasons for the life-changing decisions I have made the past few years. In it, I wrote this: “At about this time, I had given much thought to what I would do after medical school. I was now sure that I wanted two things: I wanted to build significant connections with my patients and I also knew that I wanted to get the best training available. These premises led me to two things: first, I decided to go into Internal Medicine, and second, I started to look into doing residency in the United States...” And further on: “Internal Medicine is a specialty that deals with problems that usually require long-term care – diabetes and hypertension are not addressed overnight. As such, I saw it as a great opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with my patients.” I may not have gotten a training position in the US, and I believe this is something the Lord ordained, but my reasons for going into IM remain the same.

I post this here as a future reminder to myself. I went into Internal Medicine for all the right reasons. I am sure of it. It is my prayer that the challenges that come with residency training won’t leave me jaded and calloused. This resident allowed me to see that it IS possible to remain caring and compassionate while handling all the stress of residency life. Indeed, I pray that the three years I am about to invest in IM, while training me to be critical and objective, will leave my heart raw and bleeding for the concerns and the suffering of the sick patients that the Lord will bring to my floor, unit, or office door.

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