Observations from ob/gyn

by Lorien E. Menhennett

I’ve almost finished my fourth week (out of six) on ob/gyn. What a refreshing change from sitting in a lecture hall. I keep meaning to sit down and write about what I’m seeing and learning, but I’m always … So. Tired. Many of the days are long. Regardless of the number of hours, I come home exhausted. That’s not a complaint, it’s merely a statement of fact. And it’s exactly what I expected. I’m gradually adjusting. Some moments are stressful (like the few seconds before I launch into presenting a patient’s case to my resident); others are absolutely thrilling (like watching a baby being born, and then helping deliver the placenta). But it’s a roller coaster I’m glad to be on.

So far I’ve had two weeks on gynecology (mainly observing surgeries), a week of maternal fetal medicine (high-risk obstetrics), and four days of labor and delivery (assisting with births and covering “triage,” which is essentially the emergency room for pregnant women).

In brief, before I dash off, here are a few observations of my time so far.

I really like talking to patients. That might sound silly, like it should be obvious. I’ve gone into medicine, of course I should like talking to patients. But I really do. When I was on the gynecology service, rounds — when the doctors and students go see each patient first thing in the morning — were usually between 6:30 and 7 a.m. As medical students, it was our job to “pre-round” — to go see each patient before rounds, to see how they were doing, what happened overnight, to do a brief physical exam. Then we presented each patient to the residents. The first morning I went to pre-round, as I stood outside the patient’s door, I was terrified. But once I walked in the room and started talking to her, it felt so right. I felt at home asking, listening, answering, and examining. I quickly discovered that if you’re wearing a white coat, people think you know things, and so they ask you questions in return. And I do know a few things. But I’m careful to always acknowledge my limitations as a student.

Medicine is a humbling profession. During these few weeks, I’ve shared some of people’s happiest — and most tragic — moments. Watching a baby escape the uterus during a C-section, and then seeing the parents hold their new child for the first time … I felt a slice of their joy. While on my maternal fetal medicine elective, I also saw the other end of the spectrum. Several times, I stood beside the physician as she told a couple that their pregnancy was not viable. In those instances, I felt a sliver of their pain. It’s a privilege to share these moments with people, to celebrate with them in their happiness, or to stand in solidarity with them in their sorrow: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Clinicals are a real bonding time for us medical students. On both gynecology and labor and delivery, I’ve spent hours upon hours with fellow students I barely knew at the onset of the rotation. That quickly changed. We’d share bits of information we’d gathered — how to find the template for writing notes in the convoluted electronic medical records system, for example. Or even simpler things — where the closest bathroom is, where to find surgical gowns in the supply room. In moments of doubt, we’d huddle and confer, united in our uncertainty. These people were near-strangers to me initially. But I witnessed so many times when someone bent over backwards for a classmate. I’ve heard that it can go the other way, that some people will throw you under the bus. But I’ve never seen anything like that. More than ever, I deeply respect my classmates, and feel honored to be working with them.