Sunday, August 24, 2014

The White Coat Brigade

Although I wasn't running late, it still felt that way. It was my second day of residency and a meeting with the psychiatry training director had me intent on arriving early. At my hospital, residents have access to a parking garage, unlike lowly medical students. Having been one of them for so long, the garage looks to me like the Taj Mahal. Anyway, after driving round a couple of minutes and coming up empty-handed, I spied an empty space marked, "Physician Parking Only." Wouldn't you know it? I thought, may as well have Dirty Harry guarding it. I started to drive past when the lights came on. 

"Wait a minute, that means me."

If there was a single thing typifying the impact of residency thus far, this incident depicts it. Over and over something happens -- entering the resident's lounge for the first time, hearing my name called with the title "doctor" appended to it, having other residents smile in greeting -- something happens to remind me I'm not in Kansas anymore. Medical school really is finished, I really did graduate, and I really am here, at long last.

It's kind of funny, when you think of it, the way reality creeps up and sinks in. I don't know if it affects other people like this, but I can't help thinking about how everything feels. Maybe that's why I'm in psychiatry: just being here isn't enough; I have to take it in and digest it. And unlike some third year rotations I was glad to bid farewell to, I want these first six months of inpatient psychiatry to poke along at pace that would make a snail impatient.

It's weird, though.  I feel like a buck private who's been given a battlefield commission. Only a few years ago I was an enlisted man, now I'm at the opposite end of the food chain -- or chain of command, as the case may be. Sort of. As a first year resident, I'm little more than a medical student with a title. But the people I work with didn't know me back then or in my life before that, on the front lines of mental health care. They only know me as I am now, a member of the White Coat Brigade. It's up to me to let my behavior spell out what I learned while serving on their side of the coin. 

Nothing is automatic, but it's all as pleasurable as it is satisfying. Especially sitting down with patients for therapy knowing it's partly what I'm getting paid for. I'm here to learn everything I can, but I'm also here to work and at this point, psychotherapy is something I can do quite legitimately. It's one of the tools I've had rattling around in my backpack the past few years, waiting for its time to come.

(Creative Commons image by Kids_Safari2 via Flickr)

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