“One medical school. Four years. Fifteen stories.”
That’s how a documentary team introduces its groundbreaking film that provides a firsthand look into the highs and lows, challenges and rewards of attending medical school. It’s an apt description. And the film is one that anyone considering entering medical studies should see.
In 2016, the University of Michigan Medical School welcomed 172 new doctors-in-training. Fifteen of them bravely accepted a request that would place them in the eye of a camera for the following four years. These students agreed to have their medical training documented from matriculation to graduation, milestones, mistakes and all.
“The days are long, the weeks are fast. It’s crazy how much more I know now,” said student Jacob at the end of the first year.
Among the issues covered are those that virtually all medical students encounter, including narrowing down their choice of specialties; learning how to effectively communicate with a range of personality types among peers, superiors and patients; and enduring the drudgery of lectures, followed by the exhilaration of first-time patient treatment – the moment a student is finally able to apply all they’ve learned in a real-world setting and potentially see their hard work pay off in the smile of a patient reassured.
“When you’re slaving over lecture slides – 190 slides on the thyroid, you’re just like, ‘I can’t look at another thyroid. I don’t even want to hear the word,’” said Arrice, excited about beginning year-two rotations. “Now, you get to see a patient who is actually dealing with that and you get to give feedback that could help determine their care. I’m really excited for the human aspect of medicine.”
And if you believe you’re set for or against any particular specialty, consider Hanna. After becoming nauseous multiple times in her anatomy class, she requested rotations in minimally invasive surgery. Instead, she found herself in transplant surgery –as maximally invasive as it gets. To her surprise, “I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I can’t imagine another situation where I would be so close to life and death at the same time. In general, in transplant, somebody needs to die in order for somebody else to live. I’ve thought of that abstractly before in terms of checking yes on my driver’s license, but I hadn’t thought of what it means to be in the presence of somebody who is benefitting so deeply from the fact that somebody else died before their time. It was a pretty wild experience and very meaningful.”
Meanwhile, several students followed in the film deal with added challenges including raising children, even giving birth during medical school. And those training in or otherwise dealing with mental health issues find themselves in something of a pioneering point in time, where whole-person treatment is
“My generation, as medical students and as doctors, we look for a different work-life balance and work life integration than the generation before us,” says Alex H. “We want things to change. The more we think about the ideal that we want to achieve in our careers and then not be afraid to articulate very different visions for what medical school and what an academic medical institution looks like, the better it will be. It’s definitely a challenge.”
Student Charmayne perhaps hit on the mindset of medical students best: “You feel both valued, with also the recognition that you’re very much the low man on the totem pole. This is about the patient. This is about your learning in the background but ultimately, it’s about the patient.”
The students featured graduated in 2020 – becoming doctors and preparing for residency during an historic period. Along with the rest of the world, the university grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly impacted the students’ final months of study and forced many milestone celebrations, including Match Day and Commencement, to be experienced virtually.
The documentary was produced by the Michigan Medicine Department of Communication and led by Lead Brand Manager Maria White.
“It was a true privilege to see the students grow from eager, sometimes overwhelmed M1s to insightful, highly competent M4s,” says White. “We so appreciated their honesty and time, and hope their message inspires others to pursue their dreams despite the challenges they will encounter along the way.”
See “Four Years in Blue” below. And if you’re ready to take on the challenge of medical school, consider enrolling in WOLFPACC to assure you’ll have the competitive edge. Call 904-209-3140 to learn how we can help you prepare to pass your USMLE and COMLEX exams on the first try.
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