Medical School Hypochondriac

It doesn’t matter whether you were a germophobe before coming to medical school, or if you prescribed to the “rub some dirt in it”  philosophy.    When you go to medical school, you become a hypochondriac.  You spend all day, every day, learning about signs, symptoms, and diseases.  After awhile, you find yourself thinking “I’m tired.  Maybe I have anemia/hypothyroid/chronic fatigue syndrome?”

It can (and will!) happen to anyone.  There you are, minding your own business in class, and the professor is describing a disease that you definitely don’t have….except, what if you do?


Calm down, self.  Logically if you had leukemia/Goodpasture’s/Addison’s/Etc… then you would have symptoms.  But wait a minute, isn’t one of the symptoms “fatigue?”  You are tired all the time.  Cheese and crackers–you are probably dying!


Ok, Ok–pull it together.  What are the other symptoms?  You weren’t listening to the professor, so you don’t know.  Quick, Dr. Google probably knows!  Dysphagia–you know, some times things go down the wrong pipe.  Its probably a tumor.  Coughing–you cough all the time!  In fact, now your throat feels kind of scratchy.   How has no one else noticed how sick you are?


Instead of taking notes on the rest of the lecture, you get onto webMD and learn all you can about the disease that will one day cause your tragically short life.  How sad for your friends and family to have to watch you struggle nobly with this vicious illness.


The internet says that your downfall was caused by a genetic abnormality and most patients present with severe symptoms.  It is a testament to how strong and stoic you are that your symptoms are so mild.


Goodbye, cruel world! One day they will tell your story in this very medical school.  The professor will stand before the class and tell your sad, sad story.  “If only we had caught it earlier,” he will openly weep.  “She was the best of us all….”  Wings of the hospital will be named after you.  A scholarship will be set up in your honor.Your picture will hang–

Wait a second–this disease is caused by a chromosomal abnormality and is associated with mental retardation.  You totally don’t have that.  You are the smartest person you know!  In fact, you don’t even have those symptoms you thought you did.  You never cough, and everyone is tired in medical school.   You are alive.  Amazing!


After that near death experience, you can sit back, relax and pay attention to the next lecture.  Of course, the next professor will probably tell you about another disease and the process will start all over again.





Medical School is not the Most Important Thing in my Life

My week did not go according to plan.  Over the weekend, I planned a week filled with classes, labs, meetings, and studying.  A few days later I was boarding a plane to go back home and attend a funeral.  I have spent much of my time this last week making travel arrangements and trying to shuffle my medical school obligations around.  It has reminded me of something that I rarely think about:  How truly low medical school falls on my list of priorities.

“Whhhaaat?” you say.  “But Emma! You love medical school–you never come home anymore because you are so busy with those obligations.  How can it be low on your priority list?”

Easy.  Medical school is very important to me, but I’m not even sure it breaks the top five important things on my list.  And I think this sentiment is universal for other professions, schools, and responsibilities.  Here are some reasons why.

Medical school is not more important than my friends and family.  I will never tell someone I love that I cannot help them because I have class.  There is no amount of assignments that could make me ignore the needs of a friend.  This is not noble or self sacrificing–it is simply the right thing to do.

Medical school is not more important than my health.  It would be easy to run myself into the ground, staying up all night studying for every quiz.  But I would be running on fumes.  If the difference between passing a 5 point quiz is more than 2 hours of my potential sleeping time, it is not worth it.  Now, major tests are a bit of a different story, but you get the picture.

Medical school is not more important than my happiness.  Medical school is difficult and I am not perfectly happy every second of my day.  But I am satisfied in the work that I am doing.  I am truly fulfilled by my studies.  I am not belittled by my peers or professors.  But if these things were not true, I would not sacrifice my emotional health just to become a doctor–I would have to re-evaluate.

These are things that have been true no matter where I was in my life.  And I think its important to have your priorities firmly established.  Otherwise, when a situation arises, its hard to know the right thing to do.

It is easy to get confused.  Right not–to me–medical school is one of the most overwhelming things in my life.  I spend most of my day studying to do better in school.  It is almost all that I talk about.  So when a situation comes about that jeopardizes my school commitment, I always pause.  If I am threatening my studies by binge-watching all the seasons of scrubs (except that last season, which was terrible), I should possibly reconsider. But if I need to skip school for a family emergency, then I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

Because there is more to life than studying.  Being a good human being outweighs being a medical student any day.  No matter what you are doing with your life–whether you plan to go to graduate school, or are involved in a demanding job–its important to understand what you deem to be important in your life.  If I died tomorrow, I won’t regret the times I didn’t study.  I won’t wish that I had worked more.

I know that these decisions will get harder as time goes on.  Soon I will have to balance the needs of my patients against my obligations to family and friends.  When I have children, how often will I have to miss their activities because I have to work?  How can I let my patients down if I have to leave town to take care of personal business?  The situations that I encounter in the future will become more intricate and ambiguous–I have no control over this.  The only thing that I can do is remember the things that are most important in my life and try to make decisions accordingly.

All About Anatomy: The Cadaver

Fair warning:  This is an entire blog post about what it is like to dissect a human cadaver.  Its not terribly disgusting, but proceed with caution.

When we had our first cadaver lab, I sat down to try to write a post about the experiences, but I had trouble trying to describe it.  Now that I have several weeks of anatomy lab under my belt….well, its still hard to find the words without completely horrifying the non-medical readers.  Even after taking my time writing this post, it might be advised for the more squeamish readers to just skip this one.

Anatomy lab was one aspect of medical school that made me simultaneously excited and apprehensive.  As in, I was excited because I’m a science nerd, but apprehensive because I didn’t want to be the person that tosses her cookies when she sees a dead body.


I had already “met” my cadaver during orientation week, but I wasn’t sure how I would react to dissecting a human being.  Now having gone through several labs, can tell you that the best word to describe cadaver lab is “weird.”  I know that isn’t a very specific word, but its the only one that works.

The cadavers have been preserved with formaldehyde, and seem more like plastic dolls than humans.  The skins is leathery and the limbs are all but immobile.  There were six of us to a table, all standing around her trying to decide how to start.  Our first task was to identify the muscle groups of the back, and it took all six of us to maneuver our cadaver face down so that we could access her back.  The process was messy and difficult, but we took as much care as we could.  I guess we were all subconsciously trying to keep from causing her “pain”. But the next step was to make the first incision, so that impulse would have to be overcome quickly.We carefully read the instructions, determining where to cut and how deeply. Then another student asked the inevitable question:  “Who is going to cut first?”


The answer?  Me.  I wasn’t excited about the idea of cutting into another person’s skin, but I wanted to start as I meant to finish:  confidently.  Someone had to volunteer–it might as well be me.  In the end, making the first incision wasn’t gross, disturbing, or life altering.  At the time I was more concerned that I would cut incorrectly then the odd feeling of cutting into a body.  In fact, for the majority of my time with our cadaver, I can honestly say I don’t feel ‘weird’ about it.  I can’t say the same for when I leave lab, however.

The ‘weirdness’ of cadaver lab first hit me the afternoon of that first incision.  After I had taken about three showers–the smell of those chemicals follow you everywhere–I started to make dinner.  While cutting zucchini, I looked down at my hand holding a knife and suddenly thought, ‘An hour ago instead of a zucchini I was using a knife to cut open someone’s back.”  It was an odd thought.  I wasn’t grossed out or anything–I was still ready to scarf down my dinner–but I definitely became aware that dissecting a human being was not a normal experience for most people.

In many ways I am distanced from the idea of my cadaver as a person.  Or maybe it is more accurate to say that when I am in lab, I am aware that my cadaver was a person, but the act of dissecting her seems normal.  I can imagine that if I were cutting into a person who was alive, breathing, and looking me in the eye it would be a very different experience.  But during the dissection you are following instructions, trying to figure out what you should be doing, and you get distracted looking at the anatomical details.

Every so often, I am ‘weirded out’ by the things while I am in lab.  Yesterday, for instance, I spent nearly three hours dissecting the forearm and hand of our cadaver.  At some point I looked down at my hands and realized how eery the situation was:  I was literally holding someone else’s hands in my own as I skinned her fingers.  Looking at our fingers side by side was disconcerting–we both had our fingernails painted red.

I don’t, however, want you to get the idea that I think the cadaver labs are a bad idea, or somehow disrespectful of our cadavers.  I cannot emphasized enough how helpful and educational it is to view the actual structures in their natural configuration.  I can look at pictures and slides for hours and not truly understand the anatomical placement of muscles, bones, or vasculature, but when you are forced to find a structure in your cadaver it solidifies your learning in a way that is invaluable.  I do not know the name or life story of the woman who donated her body to my education, but she has impacted my education and future career more than I can say.  The process of dissection might be occasionally unsettling, but 99% of my time in anatomy lab is spent discovering and learning.

The worst part about anatomy lab is that its a very long lab and I get hungry half way through.  I shouldn’t be hungry as I cut into a cadaver, but I am none the less.  Actually, I take that back.  The worst part about anatomy lab is that the smell follows you everywhere.  Half an hour later I’ll be eating a sandwich–because, you know, I’ve been starving for the last hour of lab–and I can smell the formaldehyde on my fingers.  Yummy.


But seriously.


Ok, enough of the GIFs.  And for those of you who were concerned, I will have you know that we students are extremely respectful of our cadavers.  The faculty at ATSU takes the matter very seriously–especially since many of the bodies were from the Kirksville area.  Imagine how traumatizing it would be to overhear students chatting about their cadavers in Walmart while you are doing your grocery shopping and realize they are talking about your family member.  So we are expected to maintain a professional attitude, an expectation I am proud to say that we have met.

Anyway, I apologize for the overly gross and dramatic post today–I just thought that since anatomy is such a big part of my life right now, you all should be forced to hear about it too 🙂