Welcome to Surgery!

How my K experience prepared me for life in the Operating Room

As a brand new third year medical student at the University of Colorado, I have recently been baptized into clinical medicine by the fire of surgery. Not only do I wake up at 4 am, scrub every last living cell off of my hands and arms, and ask patients about the intimate details of their bodily functions, I’ve also had to adapt to a completely new learning environment. I’m transitioning from the past two years of classroom and discussion-based learning to thinking on my feet in the fast paced setting of a hospital, all while being grilled by attending physicians.

On a typical day, I wake up and head to the hospital, eager to see the patients with whose cases I assisted the day before.  Is Ms. Jones recovering well from her lung surgeryI need to remember to write progress notes on my patients before 6 am!  Will I pass out in the OR today? I go into each patient’s room at around 5am, turn on a light, and ask them how they are doing and what sort of medical issues we can address.  Today an elderly woman shared with me that she hasn’t seen the point in cooking for herself for the past two years since her husband has died.  Another woman began crying while she was recovering from a double mastectomy, concerned with the image of her scarred and significantly reduced breasts. I am constantly reminded that each of my patients is more than just a case—they are people just like me, who happen to be experiencing a period of suffering or hardship.

Talking with my patients is a completely different experience than operating on their bodies. No matter how physically and mentally demanding this rotation is I am reminded every day what a privilege it is to see the human body in a way that most people never see. It is a miraculous experience to look inside the abdomen at the churning bowels as we prod them with cameras and instruments or to watch the inflation and deflation of the lungs bordered by a pulsating sac– the heart—as we puncture the patient’s chest wall to remove a mass.

I would liken this period of my medical education to my study abroad experience in Ecuador, where I was immersed entirely in a different culture, learning a new language, and often feeling dependent on others to help navigate my surroundings.  Kalamazoo gave me the confidence to take on novel experiences and responsibilities, whether it was through study abroad, leading a club lacrosse team, or singing a capella. Without the fertile grounds upon which to try out those roles and take initiative, I think it would be more difficult for me to take charge of my own education today.  The compassion and flexibility I developed at K and in Ecuador will guide me through this year of clinical immersion, in my career as a physician, and as a lifelong learner.

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About Sarah Allexan ʼ11

Sarah graduated in 2011 from K with a degree in Biology. She is now in her 3rd year of medical school at the University of Colorado. She maintains of a love of Kalamazoo as well as enjoys anything outdoors, including running and skiing.