Wearing the Short White Coat

Monday, March 8, 2021

The proximity to death was palpable. After several months of learning medicine from the comfort of my home, being in the cardiac ICU transplanted me into another world.

I was thrusted out of my world of stability as I saw countless pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physicians don endless PPE to enter patients’ rooms.

Despair could be felt in the comatose-like states of several patients.

The constant beeping of the machines alerting the team of each person’s life-sustaining vitals generated hope despite the despair.

The post-effects of COVID was hard to ignore as several patients laid asleep while the team discussed when and if they could come off the ventilators.

Although I was at the half-way point of my first year in medical school, this was my first time truly exploring the practice of medicine.

A year into the pandemic, I hold a tremendous amount of privilege as COVID-19 continues to dictate every facet of modern society.

I have been able to safely learn from home for a tangible future meanwhile many of my non-medical friends struggle to plan their lives.

Even with a bright future in mind, starting medical school in a new state in the midst of COVID-19 has cast a pessimistic glow on this newfound identity.

Without the ability to form the connections that can protect against the difficulty of graduate education it has become all too easy to become bogged down by the numerous zoom meetings and endless studying. I quickly began to lose my sense of self as I learned to adapt to the rigor of medical school.

My motivation for advocacy, community and patients quickly disappeared as I struggled to garner medical knowledge.

As my mind struggled to remember the difference between dobutamine and norepinephrine during rounds, I realized I had not been able to formulate an image about the people who take these medications and live with these diagnoses.

From my place of privilege, medical school was only about me.

My wellness, my learning, and my education. The current state of the world made it impossible to put medicine in the context of people’s lives. My virtual education had reduced the field to an exam that must be taken every 4-5 weeks to get to the next stage, removing people and patients from the equation — until I saw how clinicians battle death every day for the betterment of people.

One of the biggest tragedies out of the pandemic is how social distancing has removed and isolated individuals from communities.

I was prevented from feeling a sense of belonging in the field of medicine because I had no experience that connected me with patients.

Although I had received countless emails and met phenomenal faculty through zoom, the first half of my medical education did not feel tangible.

The culture of UCSF was a distant memory of what I experienced during interview day and all I knew about the school was relegated to the world of slack and zoom.

As vaccine availability begins to increase the capacity for in-person activities across the institution, I am most eager to return to the clinical environment and reconnect with the love I have for medicine.

The vaccine gives me the opportunity to connect with patients and their stories putting my preclinical education in the proper context.

I hope to finally be indoctrinated into UCSF and begin tackling the imposter syndrome that has haunted my mind.

I am excited to regain proximity to the field I hold so dear. Perhaps a year from now, the white coat will begin to feel natural against my skin.