Experientially, no substitute exists for getting caught with your pants (or in my case, shorts) down. Being singled out, especially while underprepared and running late, is a perfect recipe for anxiety and late night ruminations. It can also provide much needed perspective and clarity if dosed appropriately. This is my most recent experience with that bitter pill.
On the first day of medical school lectures, after two long weeks of orientation and seemingly endless introductions and semi-forced social gatherings, we began our physician training; a gentle introduction to the anatomy labs where we dress up in pastel scrubs and familiarize ourselves with our human cadavers, which we will dissect to learn the body, its parts, and functions.
Up until this point, medical school felt fairly harmless. No serious moments of panic, no roiling feelings of inadequacy– in retrospect, a sure sign of an incoming slice of humble pie.
From a logistical standpoint, I broke every dress requirement for our anatomy sessions. Having my lunch hour taken up by a required training, I didn’t have the expected time to go home and grab my gear– so I wandered late into the bright and brand-new lab wearing sandals, a headband, no gloves, a Groot T-shirt, and cheap athletic shorts. The only rule I didn’t flaunt was taking a selfie with my cadaver.
From an emotional standpoint, I was stressed, worried, and generally feeling inadequate as I tried to hide in the back of the lab while getting looks up and down from my fellow medical students that implied, “Dude, seriously?”
I fully expected to get publicly chewed out and made an example of for being “that guy” on the first day of anatomy lab. I would have totally deserved it– this is medical school, after all, not an undergraduate intro to anatomy. My lack of professionalism and preparation did not bode well for my future as a physician.
Fortunately, the only public humiliation happened in my mind. The lead instructor came over and made a number of comments that clearly voiced his disapproval of my appearance and my number one spot on his turd list. TAs approached me kindly to ask if I knew of the dress requirements, to which I thankfully admitted yes, but I’m an idiot.
Before tumbling into lab, I secured a white lab coat from a nearby clinic and a kindly nurse, and while hiding in the back a fellow student offered a set of gloves so that at least from the neck down to my knees I appeared the part of a competent medical student. During my wild panic to find the anatomy lab through construction zones and put up a facade of preparation, finding that folks wanted to help and assist felt incredibly comforting.
After surviving the experience unscathed, things weren’t too bad. All jacked-up on residual adrenaline, I found a quiet grassy corner under an expansive oak tree to sit and practice my box breathing and mindfulness exercises. Fifteen minutes later, the Florida sun shone brightly and the day had many hours left, all of which I determined to enjoy and experience, despite the emotional rollercoaster.
How will I describe this experience to myself in a few months? Exciting and fun? Probably not. Emotionally harrowing and stressful? Oh yes. Necessary? Most definitely.
Up until this point in my two weeks of medical school, I felt like a leader: able to support my peers through patient interviews and group presentations. This one hour of anatomy lab brought me back down to earth and reminded me that I need assistance, love, and reassurance as much as anyone else. I have my strengths that can bolster others with and I have my weaknesses that force humility so I can lean on others.
I have a long, long four years of medical school ahead of me. I’ll inevitably get caught many times with my pants down, but I hope to learn graciously from each experience so that it never need be repeated.