Friday, April 23, 2010

Medical School: The Great Leveler

mystery is all around
I wasn't exactly planning to write a series this week because, truthfully, much of what my entering class and I have gone through together these past four years is pretty provincial. They're the kinds of things one might find interesting if they'd had similar experiences, and then again, maybe not. And in fact, this morning I began an entirely different topic when the one I'm about to tackle tripped me up, demanding attention.

If you're even a semi-regular reader of this blog, you know I've talked about age in the context of medical school on several occasions. That my class was able to work through the subject so well is due in no small part to the proportion of ages represented among us. By my carefully calculated thumbnail estimate, we were about 70% under, and 30% over, 30. If I'm mistaken and someone knows the actual figures, I'll be happy to stand corrected, but I think I'm pretty close. The point is, there were enough non-traditional students to make age differences seem pretty ordinary.

That said, we still had to adjust to the idea of pluralism and this is where the educational environment actually helped us. As the great leveling influence in our mutual experience, medical school cut across social lines. Gender, age, religion or national origin tend to fade into the background when survival is the issue. Developing community is easier when everyone is overworked, stressed out, weary, and sleep-deprived.

Under these conditions, being too tired to do anything but take people as they come, enables a person to actually look at who's sitting across the table. Common concerns take precedence over perceived differences and eventually, you begin to realize the differences don't matter anyway. As long as the mutual commitment to the task is present, you come to respect, and in some cases, truly admire one another. If only the rest of the world could learn to live together as well as we did, wouldn't that be a sight?

Is what I've been describing a rite of passage? I think so. Figuring how to get past the things that render us distinct individuals and focus on what renders us similar, is something that will follow us throughout life. Learning how to accept a person for who they are rather than what we'd like them to be is one of the ways I define maturity. Looking back over four years, I think it's safe to say we became as grounded in our humanity as we have in our medical education, if not more so, and that certainly, is a rite of passage.

(Creative Commons image "Mystery is all around," by Aanas A. via Flickr)

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