I should be studying right now. But it’s been a long week and I’m tired, so I’m sprawled out in a room with a blasting AC unit and no furniture — my room — and decompressing. Steely Dan is playing over the sound of the AC, and I am typing with hands that smell of formaldehyde and will continue to do so until the end of the semester. The first week of medical school is almost over.
I finished off the MCAT and thought I would be getting on with my life, but that wasn’t even half the battle. The summer that followed, I applied to some 12 schools, a tedious and drawn-out process that alternated between being totally enraging and — in retrospect — humbling.
I got accepted to a few schools, rejected from most, and while traveling through Mexico at the end of June, got into the campus that I wanted to be in at the med school that I wanted to be in. School started a month and a half later, with an orientation full of obligatory “team-building” games and icebreakers that made me feel, oddly enough, like we were being forced back to high school.
I’ll tell you what though: name games and competing for fake money aside, medical school is no place for half-stepping, from any perspective. People here study hard, party hard, flirt shamelessly (all the evening plans for orientation took place at the various, horny med student-packed bars in the New Brunswick area), cut through skin, fat, muscle, bones, nerves, and often change their whole lifestyles around, all to make it through the coursework and get closer to their (or their parent’s) dream of becoming a doctor.
People here come from all over: in decreasing order, Whites, South Asians, East Asians, Blacks, Arabs, Latinos etc., some other Iranian guy. There are queers, homophobes, Republicans, feminists, pro-choice, anti-choice, suburban kids, city kids, international lived-and-been-all-over kids, and a couple of adults; these categories diverge and intersect both in predictable and in surprising ways.
There has been some dialogue that I have heard and been a part of that makes me happy about the doctors that this place will produce. One guy has great ideas and goals in the field of global health, and I think that he actually has the intelligence and the humility that it takes to succeed in his endeavors.
On the other hand, there’s this girl who just the other day said some of the most racist shit I’ve ever heard, and I don’t think she even realized how wrong her words and the assumptions that they carried were. By the way, being in close quarters with everyone, I am getting a reintroduction to many kinds of people who I could and did avoid in undergrad.
There are more than a few people who really don’t seem all that interested in the ethical or humanist demands of the medical profession, people who I wouldn’t want as my personal doctor. There are a lot of people who I enjoy being around and would like to get to know better, and a lot that I am fine not becoming best friends with.
Overall, medical school is a good sampling of the generation of high achievers: the idealistic, the financial security-seekers, the career-minded CV notation and “strong recommendation” getters, the parent pleasers, the self-interested and nakedly ambitious, the jaded and apathetic, the healers, the decent and simple, the simpleminded (that was the last list I had left to write down, I swear)…
I don’t want to ramble too much, because there is still a lot of studying to be done tonight, and it’s already 8 pm. I will say that the most human moment that I have had thus far happened with a dead person.
On the second day of anatomy lab, we had to clear away a large portion of skin and fat from the back of our cadaver’s head, which was covered by curls of thinning blond hair, in order to better see the neck muscles and the back of the lower skull. We had to give her a soldier’s haircut, and I felt almost ashamed of myself as I curled her hair around my fingers and cut away what remained of an elderly woman’s thinning locks.
Maziar Shirazi is a graduate from Rutgers University and holds a B.A. in Spanish. He is currently a medical student at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey. Features in iranian.com