Being a medical student is hard – no-one who’s spent the night studying for a test that turned out to be over all the other tiny details would dispute that. Learning anatomy and biochemistry is akin to learning a foreign language; let alone trying to master the alphabet soup of acronyms, abbreviations, and made-up descriptors that seasons the speech of anyone in the hospital. As if there weren’t enough information to devour, digest, and attempt to make sense of, it’s half in Latin and half in what seems to be a whimsical invention of the medical profession.
Next time you’re staring at a list of abbreviations and acronyms, take heart in knowing that at least your professors are teaching the classes in English. Jennifer, a first-year in Montreal, finds herself an English-speaker in a truly bilingual city – and for Leo, an American second/third-year at China Medical University in Taiwan, presentations are often made in Chinese, although the texts and tests are in English. The language barrier and inevitable culture conflicts have made his medical school career more tumultuous than most, but they haven’t dampened his enthusiasm for medicine. The chance to help people out, even in the smallest ways, keeps him motivated.
Things really aren’t so different for Bobbie, a third-year in West Virginia. Even without the impedance of language, her school requires a cultural experience in the form of a one-month required clerkship in rural health. Moving between hospitals – from the VA to the university center alone – can be an experience worthy of culture shock to some; and as Bobbie, Jennifer, and Leo have found, becoming a medical student means joining a culture all its own. There’s no other group that has learned to take in stride the discovery that the cadaver next to you is beeping, its internal chemo pump losing battery power.
To most people, Leo’s fond memories of removing the brain of a cadaver are the stuff of horror books. To a medical student, it’s part of life. Whether our aims are cardiology or pathology, whether we are just entering our first year or finishing our fourth, living in Taiwan or Indianapolis, Montreal or West Virginia, medical school will forever change us and the way we perceive the world. Learning the language and the culture are just steps – like shelf exams and pathology lab – on the way to becoming a doctor.