By Luke Murray
In my last couple of posts, I’ve argued that all you have to do to be a “good” third year medical student is be “engaged.” In order to make this insight more actionable, I described the biggest source of disengagement for me (not accepting my circumstances and calibrating my expectations) and what I wish I would have done about it.
In this post, I’ll cover the second category of reasons I would often “check out” while on the wards and how I was able to fix it:
Even if you’ve accepted the fact that you’re going to be ignored by the team for 97% of the day, you will be tempted to do something besides be bored. Perhaps it’s texting your friends, or browsing your favorite website, or playing CandyCrush on your iPad. You know you’re not supposed to be doing these things, but when you’re dying of thirst, it may be too difficult to expect yourself to ignore the wellspring of distraction vibrating in your pocket.
Being interested in startup companies, I discovered Paul Graham’s essays on the topic during my surgery rotation and would retreat to his words while standing in the hallway or waiting for a case to start…instead of talking with the rest of the OR staff or reading about the next procedure. On my ER rotation, I discovered the website Gomerblog.com and spent embarrassingly large amounts of time laughing at the endless one-liners…instead of finding some patient to interview.
I would end the day with literally zero new knowledge and a head full of static in the form of Facebook updates and fart jokes. Terrible.
Thankfully, I eventually realized that despite their many good uses and practical ubiquity among all other members of the team, I could not have a cellular phone with me on wards. So I stopped bringing mine. At all.
It was awkward at first, explaining to the residents that I left my phone at home because it was too big of a distraction. I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t self-controlled enough to handle it. But the truth is, I wasn’t. At that point, the cost of looking ‘weak’ was one I was willing to pay to salvage what little experience I could glean from the time that remained in my medical training and to avoid furthering my reputation as ‘the student that’s always on his phone.’
But by the end of the first day, I could tell that this was the best decision I’d made in medical school. I went from feeling scrambled and empty, to feeling clear minded & aware.* I didn’t all of a sudden become the perfect “engaged” 3rd year…but I’d never made such a drastic improvement in becoming less disengaged. Unfortunately, there was still this entire other category of reasons that kept me and many of my classmates from thriving…and I’ll talk about that in my next post.
*If you’re thinking about doing this yourself but need your phone to communicate with the team, consider making it a distraction-free smartphone. Details on how one man did that here.