The Breakfast Club

I wish that you all could see the stack of books I’ve bought since September, as well as the stack of syllabi for the two classes I have survived; all together they come up to my waist, and I’m only half way through the first year! Gross Anatomy, Imaging, and Embryology is behind me, as well as Cell Structure and Function, which is also known as CSF by all of us students – another part of the new language we have adopted in this foreign realm of medical school. It’s not unusual to pass by a student in the hallway and hear them say, “Yah, I’m so happy that SCF is over, but I wish that it was as easy as GIE was, and thank GOD SPH will be better, although we have that darn SRP to do and I need to finish my application for OCTRI for that summer OSLER grant!”

The day after CSF ended I received an email from the director of the class stating that I had missed 8 out of 12 small group discussions, and that even though I had gotten a satisfactory in the class, as far as he was concerned, I had not participated fully in the class. Because the small groups were student run, and because most of the rest of the class did attend all the small groups, my behavior was unprofessional. He was letting the Dean’s office and the Progress Board know of my absences, and that my decision to not attend would have unintended consequences.

Can you imagine my surprise when I opened this email? A brief moment of panic set it, and then I called my fellow students in crime, the five of us who don’t attend class regularly. They all got the same email, verbatim, with only the name changed. We all forwarded the email to the Dean’s office with questions regarding the threatened “unintended consequences” and a few of us responded to the director of the class to explain that our absences were not due to laziness or lack of studying the material discussed, but rather, to make more effective use of our limited time to learn the vast amounts of information presented to us in CSF.

The director responded to my email, stating that it wasn’t all about me, that I could not pick and choose the parts of the curriculum that worked for my learning style. He assured me that my classmates noticed my absences, and that I missed educational opportunities that could not be compensated for by studying at home by myself. More importantly, I got a call from the Assistant Dean (on Saturday night!), assuring me that it was not going on my “record” and that it was not unprofessional to have missed these small groups. We agreed that it was a communication misunderstanding, since in the syllabus it stated the small groups were worth 1% of our grade, and no where did it say that they were mandatory. I chose to forgo that 1% in order to preserve my sense of sanity, which is in a precarious balance these days.

One my fellow other derelicts wondered if we were all going to get a Saturday detention, solidifying the notion of our group as the breakfast club. You remember that 80’s movie and the theme song…..”Don’t you forget about me, Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t, Don’t you forget about me…” That’s us all right, going against the norm, getting in trouble, but at least weren’t not smoking pot in the OHSU library.

So with this heavy on my mind, I started the first day of the next class, Systems Processes and Homeostasis, (remember, after an exam, there is no break; you go to your student mailbox and heft out the next three inch deep syllabus that you know you will only have eight or ten days to learn), and decided to go to at least some of the lectures. In addition to feeling chastised, I also realized that I am lonely studying by myself all day at home. So I went to all the lectures, with vigor and excitement, being greeted with smiles from the many classmates that I haven’t seen very much. The new class, SPH, is very different from the other two classes in that it is more conceptual. We can no longer just memorize enzymes or body parts, we have to understand how the systems in the body work, right down to the molecular level. Great! Finally something that seems more relevant to the future clinical aspects of actually taking care of patients and managing their diseases.

The bubble popped when I failed the quiz we had on Thursday, and when I had to study 24 hours this past weekend in order to read all the information required to understand the material for the exam we had this morning. Darn it! I had to learn the hard way, again, that there is no time for me to go to lecture when I learn better from reading than from listening. In a perfect world, I would do both; but I am not superwoman, and I should learn to follow the advice of second and third year students in med school – learn what works and keep doing it.

So I am back to studying alone starting tomorrow morning, diving into the cardiovascular system. Last night, before falling asleep with goo goobs of medical information swimming around my brain, I had, for the very first time, the feeling that I do not like what I am doing. My life is so out of balance, and I study so hard to just pass! I wish it was that easy to let go of my inherent perfectionism. I know intellectually that I cannot possible know it all, and furthermore, that I don’t need to know it all in order to be a great doctor, but I just can’t switch off that emotional switch. That nagging little voice that says “You are not good enough if you don’t get Honors.” I thought that I had destroyed that button years ago, but there it is, lurking in the back of my mind, to rear it’s ugly head after I get an average grade in exchange for phenomenal effort.

So my dear friends and family, I am asking you to become part of my “breakfast club”. To keep me in your mind, to send me positive thoughts and encouragement, to counteract that negative committee in my head. Call out my name when you walk by, and don’t forget about me!

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