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Defining Yourself

Ben_3Ben Bryner -- Most of the people who started medical school with me are doctors now and are starting their internships this week. (Although there are quite a few of us who took an extra year to do research or get an additional degree and will graduate next year.) I think most of them are excited, and probably a little terrified, too. It's kind of similar to the way a lot of us felt at the beginning of med school: a mix of excitement at taking another step toward becoming a doctor but uncertain about exactly what was in store for us.

Although my school's curriculum was based on class-wide lectures, we had weekly small-group meetings where a dozen or so of us students would meet with a faculty member. Usually we spent most of the time discussing a fictional patient case that got us into some interesting conversations. But one of the more important aspects of the group was that it gave us a fixed setting to get to know a group of people. When you're starting medical school, the pace and volume of material can make it hard to really know your classmates very well.

On the first day of these small groups, we had the typical introduction process, where we went around the room and said our names, where we were from, where we went to college, etc. By way of an icebreaker, the moderator asked us to name a song that described us. This is a fairly good question that lets you get a feel for what a person is like. But it's a difficult question to answer. It's certainly not the same as your favorite song, and it has to be one that most people know for it to mean anything to them. I ended up choosing the Theme from Shaft, Isaac Hayes' groundbreaking theme from the 1971 movie. I said it applied because I'm "the cat who won't cop out / When there's danger all about" (not because I am similar to the Shaft character in appearance, occupation, or awesomeness).

There was a kind of awkward silence for a second, and I worried that everyone thought I was crazy. But the faculty advisor laughed at least, and we moved on to somebody else. I'll admit the reference is a little dated, but what kind of song am I supposed to pick? It's not like there are hundreds of songs about first-year medical students that make you say, "Yep, that's me in that song."

It was the first time we had to classify ourselves in medical school, to distinguish ourselves from others. This process continued throughout our preclinical years; some students were inevitably identified as gunners and others as slackers.

Once our third year was underway (another time of great excitement and terror), people were still being classified as gunners (since gunners behave differently on the wards, and closet gunners are revealed). But far more significant was the way in which we started classifying ourselves by the specialties we planned to pursue. The more people began really settling into their specialties, the more that became the predominant classification. "What are you going into?" became the first question we asked a classmate who we hadn't seen for a long time. And since it was often the first question our residents would ask us on a new rotation, we got used to identifying ourselves as future surgeons, pediatricians, radiologists, or whatever, in almost all contexts. I think a lot of us started changing our personalities slightly to accommodate expectations; when you meet somebody new and all they know about you is your name and your specialty of choice, it's hard not to subconsciously start acting the way you think an obstetrician or a neurologist should act. (I'll resist the temptation to describe specifically what I think those stereotyped behaviors are.)

A few weeks ago a few of us from the small group had dinner with our group's faculty member. Since our last meeting had been during the third year, the first thing he wanted to hear was what specialty everyone from the group was going into. He also remarked on how interesting it was to watch our group go through the many transitions of medical school. We had all picked up new skills, new attitudes, and new classifications that described ourselves. I thought about that too; I've certainly changed a lot in medical school, and have fallen into categories now that I wouldn't have predicted when I started.

I also thought about the way I first classified myself to the others in my small group. Could I honestly say I'm "the cat who won't cop out / When there's danger all about?" By saying I am, I set a goal for myself. It's a lot like the way I classify myself as a future surgeon; claiming that label also shows me the work I have to do, and gives me a lot to live up to. I will certainly try to be a good surgeon, just like I will always try to be "the man / Who would risk [my] neck for [my] brother man."

June 22, 2008 in Ben Bryner | Permalink


i love this article. it boost my determination of becoming a doctor. THANKS

Posted by: MARTIN EBIKA | Jun 27, 2008 4:32:54 AM

i love the relationshipe and i hope to go side by side but i dont know what i do and i want solve my obstecle (problems)about study but where is the supporter.....?

Posted by: adel fatease | Jun 28, 2008 8:22:17 PM

i found this article to be very interesting and helpful...

Posted by: eric | Jun 29, 2008 6:23:09 AM

Hi Ben
great to know you.I'm from chennai.just another medico who thinks so much to come out of the cave.I've got a good point how not to resist changes in me.yea it s better to accept that one is yet to grow up not a grown up while entering the course.I'm a third year student realising that it is still not late to get grown up..thanks for sharing with us..

Posted by: Anitha | Jul 8, 2008 11:56:41 PM

luvly article.I'm a fifth year med student,guess we've all chaged a great deal since we started med school...

Posted by: kingsley | Jul 9, 2008 4:02:45 AM

it was so itersting to read it.I am a second year med student wishng to chang so much by graduating!

Posted by: raana | Sep 28, 2008 4:40:21 AM

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