Progress Notes

White Coat advice from an MS3

(Editor’s note: This post is a speech given at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2016, in August 2012, when author and former Progress Notes editor Chaya Murali was an MS3)

Chaya Murali
Chaya Murali

By Chaya Murali, PGY-1 at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania

When I started my clinical rotations this January, I took the advice of many upperclassmen and stuck a little blue notebook in one of my many white coat pockets. The purpose of the notebook was simple: use it to record important lessons so they wouldn’t slip my mind. As the pages began to fill, I wasn’t surprised to realize that I had a lot to learn. But I was surprised to discover that my clinical experience was teaching me about a lot more than medicine.

Lesson 1: Believe it or not, bowel is beautiful. All right, so maybe beautiful isn’t the right word. But finding beauty and poetry in the little things sustains our spirits. You should all do it every day. On a somewhat related note: living, fully-inflated lungs are shockingly large, and vaguely reminiscent of Teddy bears.

Lesson 2: In all likelihood, your first exam during clinical rotations will crush your soul. You will leave the exam hall wondering if you’re supposed to feel this way. I’m not 100% certain yet, but I’m pretty sure you are.

Lesson 3: Learning where all the free food is, in any given hospital, is a worthwhile endeavor.

Lesson 4: Working with a good team can make all the difference. One of the great joys of medical school is the amazing camaraderie that develops almost instantly among classmates. You are all truly in this together.

Lesson 5: Caring for patients is a privilege. It may not always feel that way, especially when you’re changing wound dressings at 5:30 AM while your patients yelp in pain. But trust me on this one. Our patients are generous enough to let us in on the most intimate details of their lives, and we are able to learn as a result.

Lesson 6: The human body is an amazing thing deserving of our reverence. As medical students and future physicians, we have the unique job of tinkering with the world’s most amazing machine, and we would do well to remember that fact every day.

Lesson 7: Life is good when you’re doing what you want to do. Weekends are wonderful for seeing family and friends. There are always challenges to overcome, and more mistakes to be made, but in the end, there’s little to complain about.

Our years in medical school challenge us. They stress us out. They make us gain weight, and lose weight, and laugh, and cry, and do everything in between. Medical school makes us work harder than we ever have before. But ultimately, a career in medicine is truly a gift.

Every day, I leave the hospital grateful for my physical health, my mental well-being, and the amazing family and friends that keep me smiling even when life gets tough. I’m delighted to have chosen a career path that will allow me to touch others’ lives every day, and I am just as delighted that all of you have chosen the same profession.

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