Learning to adjust, and keeping the faith

by Lorien E. Menhennett

I made scrambled eggs for myself today around 8. Making eggs isn’t unusual for me. I do it almost every day. What’s odd is that I made them at 8 p.m., not 8 a.m. I’ll tell you, it’s disorienting to eat breakfast after the sun has gone down rather than after it has come up. But that’s what you do when you’re working the night shift.

I’m so glad to finally be working in the hospital rather than sitting in a lecture hall. Like every transition though, there are elements that take some getting used to — like being awake when it’s dark outside.

One aspect of clerkships I’m adjusting to is how little time I spend in one place. Every team has a rhythm and it takes a while to fall into sync. My first two weeks of ob/gyn, I was on the gynecology service. As my first clerkship, there was lots of generalized adjusting. Then there was learning the gyn team’s workflow, figuring out where to find things (I have a horrible sense of direction so this probably took me longer than the average person), and developing a better understanding of gynecologic surgery. Just as the two weeks were ending, I finally felt like I’d gotten a better grasp of it all. And then I moved on to rotate through maternal fetal medicine, with a completely different schedule, team, workflow, and fund of knowledge. I’ve never worked as a temp, but I imagine this is similar. You walk into a new situation, cold, every few weeks. You rush to get up to speed, then head somewhere else to do it all over again. I’m not sure there is a solution for this in medical education, since medical students do need to rotate through so many fields. My goal is to do my best, to be as useful and helpful as possible, but also to give myself grace when I fall short of that goal.

Maybe as much as anything, this constant merry-go-round teaches us medical students to be flexible. In medicine, as I’ve learned so many times already, things often do not go as planned. You need to think on your feet, to be creative, to work with what you have and where you are. With that in mind, I’m trying to use these periods of disorientation to learn how to adapt to new and challenging situations. That can only help me as a physician.

Once I started thinking that way, focusing on how this frustration could actually teach me something useful, I started to feel better. This reminded me that attitude plays such an important role in education, as with anything else. You truly get out of it what you put into it — mindset included.

It also helps to know that I’m not the only one who feels like I’m flailing. Yesterday I was chatting with an anesthesiology resident shortly before a minor procedure on labor and delivery. He acknowledged that as a medical student, he too felt like he was in the way much of the time. He also said, with a wry smile, that he hoped my transition to feeling useful would be shorter than his was.

That would be nice. But I’ve realized that it’s not all about feeling useful. It’s great to be helpful, and I aim to be as much as I can. The truth is, though, that I just don’t know much of anything yet. That will slowly change, I’m sure. For right now, I want to go in every day with a smile, to be as valuable a team member as possible, and to keep an open, curious, passionate mind so that I can take it all in.

The pieces will fall together eventually. No matter how disoriented I feel in the moment, I have faith in that.