Himalaya: Listen. Learn. Grow.
Leading A Double Life
LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE__EPISODE 006Trials of a doctor-in-training—Part 1Hi, everyone, and welcome to episode 6 of my podcast Leading A Double Life. I’m Kwei Quartey, a physician and author of the Inspector Darko Dawson novels. On my podcast, what it’s like to be a medical doctor and a writer. This episode, Trials Of A Doctor-In-Training, Part 1In medical school, there are certain main subject categories like Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Pathology, and so on. A med student has to study a lot, although there isn’t as much dry reading as there is in law school, for example. In case law, you might read a case Mr. X versus the State that is page after page of long, wordy paragraphs. In medicine, cases might have images to support clinical situations and break up the tedium. In neurology, for instance, you have diagrams of neural pathways that you must learn in order to understand a particular neurological disorder. It makes understanding the pathology easier, although it doesn’t necessarily give you less to memorize.In histopathology, a student is tested on the human tissues and different types of cells seen under a microscope. One of the most intimidating types of exams is when you’re given a certain amount of time, say 30 seconds, to identify a human cell type, and you must move onto the next station when the examiner rings the buzzer. Falling behind in writing down your answers can be a catastrophic domino effect.Among the subjects medical students have the most anxiety about, Anatomy is probably the mother of them all. It’s the study of the structure of bodily parts and their physical relation to each other, and the study of human anatomy traditionally involves dissection of the human body much the way many of us dissected frogs or mice in high school or college. For most freshmen and fresh-women in medical school, human anatomy is the first time to see and experience a dead body. I remember I was a little apprehensive about what it would be like, but I recall some other students who were almost paralyzed with anxiety.I remember the dissection hall as a large room with two long rows of stainless steel tables upon each of which was a male or female cadaver. My reaction to the bodies was surprisingly muted. They had an unreal, waxy, Madame Tussauds appearance. The skin texture was nothing like a live human. They reeked of the formaldehyde preservative, and sometimes it was so strong as to make my eyes water. In the end, I think even the students who were most worried about the cadavers got used to the idea pretty quickly, and two or three weeks in, no one batted an eye.Each student is usually assigned to a pod of 7 to 10 colleagues who stay together as a group with the same cadaver for the duration of the semester. Each pod follows the syllabus under supervision by a medical fellow, that is, a junior physician specializing in the field. The study of the cadaver’s anatomy follows major regions or systems of the body: head and neck, upper limbs, chest, abdomen and so on. But within each of those are subdivisions: for example, the head and neck will include the lymphatic, neurological and muscular systems. Whether you get a male or a female cadaver is luck of the draw, as is the amount of adipose tissue your cadaver has. Consider yourself lucky if you have a lean body. They are much easier to work with.I know of one medical school that traditionally has the staff and students hold a moment of respectful silence before the first cuts on the cadavers are ever made. They were once living human beings, and in a way they have sacrificed their bodies to us for the sake or our learning from them. I think that moment of silence is a wonderful gesture, and I wish my medical school had done that as well. Now, working in groups like our Anatomy pods is not always easy. One medical student often turns out to be something of a leader within the pod,