This much is certain: Medical school is changing my brain.

I see this manifested daily in the way my language and understanding of language is changing. A few examples: a couple weeks ago, holding a human brain in my hands in anatomy lab, absolutely dumbfounded and awestruck, I could barely form a sentence. This, as a lifetime talker, a worshipper of language, was a shock. In the same week, while taking a history in a women’s health clinic, I asked, “So, how has everything been in the last year in your, um, you know, your, um, lady parts?” (I know the words, I just couldn’t find them fast enough. Thankfully, we both laughed.) The first time I heard my preceptor say “proximal,” I blushed, surprised to hear a word in real life I had just learned in my school life. Since the third week of August, I am dreaming and mumbling under my breath in Latin. Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi. Salpingopharyngeus. Flexor digitorum profundus.

The language of medicine, as I am learning, is wonderful, mysterious, frustrating. Studying for an exam in our Principles of Clinical Medicine course, I was struck by the acronyms we had digested over the last three months: BATHE, AIDET, CAGE, PARQ, RULE, the list goes on. These all have something to do with talking to patients; not only are we learning how people talk (man, it’s complicated, a jumble of nerves and muscles), but we are learning how to talk to people as a means of becoming a physician. Some days I come home and, talking to my husband, I feel as if I’ve emerged from another word, one that’s hidden or secret or completely invented. Others, like during my own, recent doctor’s appointment, I feel as if I finally understand what all the fuss is about. This field is complicated, and the learning seriously does not stop from the moment you put on that white coat, which is glorious and exhausting and humbling. It’s no wonder that most days I feel like I’m learning a foreign language in a country that doesn’t speak the language I’m trying to learn.

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  1. Hi Britta,

    It sounds like you are really enjoying your first year of med school! I have to say – I am very jealous! I would like to attend med school some day, but currently I am a busy mom of a 4 very young children. Do you think a mom of 4 could balance school with family life? I’m wondering at what point, if ever, it would be possible for me to pursue my dream of being a doctor. Do you go to school with any moms?

    Thank you!

  2. Staci – thanks for your comment. I’ll pass it along to Britta, but meanwhile, I thought I’d share a post on the Doernbecher blog from an OHSU pediatrics resident, Alison Christy, M.D., Ph.D., who’s a mother of two kids. I think you’ll enjoy it:

    – Jennifer Smith, School of Medicine Dean’s office

  3. Hi Staci! I’m sorry to be so delinquent in my reply: medical school hours are no joke! I go to school with several moms and am considering becoming one myself, so I can say that this is a topic very much on my mind. However, I can’t speak to how the moms in my class do it. I am in awe of them. I wish I knew their secret(s)! I have a feeling it takes a whole lot of determination and an even greater amount of support–from family, partners, friends, even pets. I hope you can continue to work toward your goal, as it is a very deserving and rewarding one. Your kids are lucky to have such a determined and interesting mother! I wish you all the best.


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Ever wondered what life is like as a student at OHSU? What does it take to become a researcher? Just how gross is gross anatomy? Welcome to the blog that answers these – and many other – questions. It’s students writing first-hand about their commitment to careers in science and health care. It’s honest about the challenges as well as the joys. It’s not always pretty. But it is our story. Thank you for sharing it with us. And please, let us know what you think.

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