Medical Students Can Make A Difference

It is that time of the year again when medical students start appearing on the wards. If you are a third year student you are now likely starting your clinical rotations. If you are a fourth year student you are probably embarking on away rotations to the specialty of your choice. Every physician has fond memories of being a medical student — the torture from residents and attendings, the constant pimping, the feeling of being a useless fly on the wall, the awkwardness of trying to fit in.

Every year I have a story to tell the students that I come across. It is about learning good habits as a student and learning to take the time to do a good job. It is about starting early to be the doctor that you want to be when you are a fully fledged physician.

Hospital HallwayWhen I was on my pediatrics rotation I happened to admit a young girl while taking call with a resident. As an eager medical student looking to impress I did a thorough history and physical with the girl and her mother. The girl was about 11 years old and had an awkward constellation of symptoms. However, she had been in and out of the hospital 3 or 4 times over the past several years. Each time she was admitted and discharged for one symptom that based on the medical notes did not appear to ever resolve. The resident who I was working with was on autopilot and wanted to admit the patient and do the same workup that has been done each time the patient had been admitted. I decided to look up the patient’s symptoms on the computer and found that it sounded an awful lot like a rare syndrome of which only 60 cases had ever been reported.

To make a long story short, because of my work as a medical student the girl finally got the correct treatment. She underwent an extensive workup and was found to have a cardiac condition that was associated with the syndrome. She also had surgery to fix the primary problem that she was having. I happened to see her and her mother in the hospital hallway several years later and they were so very thankful to me and to this day said that if they had not come across me that night when I was a student they would not know where they would be today.

Helping that patient as a medical student did not earn me a high grade. It did not get me any special recognition from anyone in the hospital. However, it helped out someone in need. Thus, for all of you medical students out there – you can actually make a difference. You are at a unique point in your training where you can see everything with fresh eyes. Don’t forget how important you are to your patients.


Dr. JC is a medical doctor who has a passion for health promotion and education.
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