Living the Medical Student Life

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The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) welcomed 600 new students on Saturday. Some held human body parts in the gross anatomy lab. Some learned how to suture. And others were shown how to deliver a baby.

The instruction was part of the school’s “A Day in the Life of a Medical Student,” which invites family and friends of GW medical students to spend a Saturday learning what it’s like to be in GW’s medical school.

“While we can’t recreate exactly what our students go through in a single day, we think you will enjoy trying to ‘fill their shoes’ and hopefully gain a better understanding of the challenges and rewards of attending medical school,” said Jeffrey Akman, M.D., interim vice provost for Health Affairs and dean of SMHS.

Dave and Kyle Roberts traveled from Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the event and learn more about what their son, Aaron, is going through as a first-year medical student.

“I’m not familiar with medicine, and no one in our family is a doctor, so I wanted to get a better understanding of what it’s all about,” said Kyle Roberts.

As family and friends filed into Ross Hall Saturday morning, they received a schedule of classes for the day and a medical school survival kit, which included a tea bag, a Hershey’s Kiss, Ibuprofen, and a Band-Aid. The school held the first “A Day in the Life” event in 1989 with about 70 parents, and since then, family and friends have been invited to the school every other year.

By participating in “A Day in the Life,” parents get to see where their children spend so much time for four years, said Rhonda Goldberg, associate dean for student affairs.

“This is the place they have called you from after staying up half the night studying. The place where they will deliver their first baby and the place where they will lose their first patient,” said Goldberg.

After eating breakfast in the Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library and the student lounge, half of the “new medical students” attended a lecture by Raymond Walsh, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and the other half attended a lecture by David Mendelowitz, Ph.D., professor and vice-chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology.

Both professors gave 45-minute lectures on the heart, and handed out a pop quiz at the end. Although many of the parents had no medical background, the professors still taught the lecture in the same way they do for the medical students so that the parents could see what a typical class lecture was like.

“I need you to pay attention because there will be a quiz at the end of this lecture and how well you do will affect your student’s grade,” Mendelowitz joked.

George Pertot, of Long Island, N.Y., said he was relieved that how he did on the quiz was not actually going to affect the grade of his daughter, Elyse, a second-year medical student.

“It went way over my head,” said Pertot. “I don’t understand how she stays awake and pays attention for that long every day.”

“A Day in the Life” is put on by a 10-member student organizing committee, chosen by Goldberg. Because the event is offered every other year, the students who are selected during their first or second year serve on the committee again during their third or fourth year of medical school.

“You go to medical school, and you kind of disappear from your family and friends. They hear about your classes, the library, and your exams, but it’s pretty hard to understand it all,” said Emily Kahn, a fourth-year medical student who is preparing for an anesthesiology residency at YaleNew HavenHospitalCenter.

After eating lunch at Sequoia on the Georgetown Waterfront, the parents, siblings, and spouses went to afternoon classes. Each participant chose two out of 17 classes to attend. The topics included the matching process, residency ,and CPR. Many of the classes were interactive, with participants learning how to put on a cast, take a patient’s blood pressure, and diagnose a robotic patient.

The most popular class this year was gross anatomy, where participants took a tour of the lab and examined individual organs and cadavers. Students showed their families the difference between a healthy lung and a smoker’s lung, a healthy liver and an alcoholic’s liver, and a healthy blood vessel and a vessel clogged with cholesterol.

Another popular class was “All Stitched Up,” where participants learned how to suture a pig’s foot using tweezers and scissors.

“It takes a lot of practice,” said Kevin Lee, a fourth-year medical student who will be starting a urology residency also at Yale this summer. “I practiced a lot at home on chicken or beef.”

Alan Renne, of Ridgefield, Conn., was very impressed by the entire program.

“It gave us a really good broad-level perspective not just on medical school but the career too,” said Renne, whose son, Christian, is a first-year medical student. “It’s a wonderful program.”

At the end of the day, the “new medical students” received diplomas and made a cider toast to their “graduation.”

“Congrats, you made it,” said Thomas Zaikos, a first-year medical student serving on the student organizing committee.

Kahn thanked the families and friends for all of their support during the students’ four years of medical school. “You all are really on this journey with us,” she said. “We wouldn’t have made it this far without you.”

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