Saturday, September 17, 2011

A month's worth of newness

Well it’s been more than month since I have posted anything here and it’s damn well about time I changed that. I have been incredibly busy and have been totally absorbed by medical school and all the burdens that go with moving to a totally new place and getting adjusted to living there. But now I have begun to settle down into a fairly convenient routine and can give a good retrospect of the month that just passed.

On August 8, I boarded a painfully early morning flight from Los Angeles to St. Louis to start medical school at Washington University. The founders of my school must have been fond of misunderstandings, since its name provokes a lot of confusion.

“Is it in Washington?”

“Is it in Washington, D.C.?”

These are the two most common follow-up questions I get whenever I talk to someone not in the medical community. No wonder that in 1976, the Regents of the university finally sneaked in the qualifier “in St. Louis” to the school’s name to make it “Washington University in St. Louis.”
Usually its shortened to either WashU or WUStL. 

BTW if you haven’t got it by now, the school was named after our first president.

Orientation was from August 9-12. I was at a slight advantage at meeting a lot of my new classmates because more than half of the class had arrived in St. Louis early to do a week-long community health program. First day went by fairly briskly, and I spent an awful lot of time shaking hands and smiling and introducing myself. The two most common questions following introductions – “Where are you from?” and “Where did you do your undergrad?”

If time permitted, these were usually followed by “Where are you living right now?”

That evening, the school rented out the entire City Museum from 6-9 and threw a lavish reception party, replete with an open bar and a generous dinner. This was the type of affair with waiters circulating in and out of crowds, carrying trays laden with delicious appetizers and some kind of wine. The entire top brass showed up, and the Dean of admissions was seated at my table. I was awestruck. This man was literally directly responsible for my admission to the school. He was my interviewer way back in November of last year, and he was the one I wrote to express my interest after being waitlist. And he was the one who called me the next day to announce the happy news.

There were four other students at the table, and the talk turned to California. My class has a lot of Californians. The Dean made a joke about it: “When the creator made the world, he/she took the whole North American landmass and shook it thoroughly, and all the nuts fell down to California.” 


The rest of the orientation days were, sadly, neither as eventful nor as exciting. We were bombarded with lectures and protocols and forms. Orientation culminated in what has now become a standard practice among medical schools, the white coat ceremony. It is a fairly recent tradition (Wikipedia tells me it was first introduced in late 1980’s) that marks the initiation of new medical students into the medical community. Each student is given a white coat and the class as a whole recites an oath to uphold the principles of medicine.

WashU makes us construct our own oath, partly because the Hippocratic oath is terribly outdated (it includes clauses like "to live in common with him[i.e. teacher] and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art." ) and partly because the school acknowledges that while the main tenets of medicine may not change, each new generation of physicians-to-be brings its own set of ideals. 

For that purpose, we were split into small groups. Each group, under the guidance of a faculty mentor, spent two hours brainstorming various ideas worthy of including in the oath. Two representatives were appointed from each group, and all the representatives met again to write the final product. If anyone is interested, here is the oath in full: Oath.

Now normally, I am faintly leery of such displays of solemnity because I think people take them for granted, thus diluting the significance of these events. However, I was very impressed with the gravitas and authenticity of the whole ceremony. Granted, we are all at a very young stage in our careers, but the boisterious idealism on display at the white coat ceremony is necessary to sustain the tough years ahead. Plus, everyone’s parents had a nice reason to feel happy and overwhelmed, which is always good. This post has grown too long already, and I will talk about classes, daily life etc. in my next post.

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