Like many of my rising MS2 classmates, I have flown the Portland coop for the summer and am using the time to breathe a little non-hill air. I have landed in the beautiful country of Costa Rica where I will be spending a total of six weeks plus two days studying Spanish, traveling, and meeting as many people as possible. It has only been a few days, but the whirlwind of arriving in a brand new culture has me thinking back to the equally chaotic first few days of medical school, and the parallels that I’m noticing between the two experiences.
To begin, everything here is new and unfamiliar, which is equal parts exciting and terrifying. The air feels a little funny (wet, wet, wet), the road signs make no sense (and people seem to largely ignore them anyway, making crossing the street quite an adventure), and the words coming out of people’s mouths fly around my ears with little to no penetration or comprehension. The result is that I feel 100% out of my element, but also completely intrigued. Weird, I just got the oddest flash of déjà vu…
Of course, it’s not exactly like medical school. First of all, there are monkeys here, four kinds to be exact. Second, there are lots of incredibly friendly, interesting people who may not speak my language but are infinitely patient while they wait for me to find the right words. These same people also happen to share my love of parks, traveling to interesting places on the weekends, and a love/addiction to really good, locally made coffee. Hang on; maybe this place is exactly like medical school (plus the monkeys).
Regardless, I’m thrilled to be here. You might ask why I have chosen to spend my highly coveted “last summer” taking an intensive four-hour-a-day language course? Well, I already mentioned the monkeys. More importantly though, I think that studying Spanish might just be one of the most valuable things I can do aside from my coursework to make myself a better provider in the future. It is no secret that the percentage of Spanish-speaking patients in Oregon and the rest of United States is sizable, and growing quickly. And although we have excellent interpretive services here at OHSU, I can’t help but notice that occasionally during these visits things still get lost in translation (forgive me). It also seems that those providers who have grasped even the most basic fundamentals are infinitely more at ease with their Spanish-speaking patients, and vice versa.
So, here I go. As with medical school, my goal at this point is not perfection or necessarily even competence. Those both seem a little lofty and maybe even a bit naïve. Rather, I am going to take direction from a wise woman that I know and strive instead for a level of “conscious incompetence,” or gaining a clear understanding of what I don’t know and being okay with that. I plan on working hard, but this mindset will not only push me to keep learning but will give me a little freedom to relax about all the mistakes I (will) make along the way. Why just yesterday, I took a bite of raw plantain before realizing (from the taste in my mouth as well as the look of horror on the fruit vendor’s face), that plantains, or platanos, are a must-cook fruit. But as nobody was injured in the making of this mistake, it was a pretty easy one to laugh about and let go. I feel like there is a lesson here.