Posted by: ateedub | August 19, 2008

On White Coats and Med Students

Medical Students (courtesy UofL)

Medical Students (courtesy UofL)

The new crop of med students has just started. As always, they’re noisy, full of dreams, sufficiently sarcastic in conversation with one another to sound jaded, and they think this place is all about them. It’s in their swagger, the way they talk too loudly on the university shuttle, the way they ware their newly bestowed waist-length white coats, and above all, in the way they take up the whole damn sidewalk on their way to and from class.

Tourists on Segways (courtesy Segs in the City)

Tourists on Segways (courtesy Segs in the City)

They are like tourists in a lot of ways. Ignoring the locals trying to go about their daily lives as they ooh and ahh in gaggles that block any forward motion, talk too loudly in public spaces about their plans for the day or what so-and-so said about such-and-such or as they count each and every stop on the metro, checking and re-checking the map after each station.

I don’t really hate the med students. I’m jealous of their exhuberance and annoyed by their thoughtlessness. I’m fascinated by the many reasons they have for subjecting themselves to at least 7 more years of almost certain debt and nearly no control over their daily routine.

The pomp and ceremony and supposed prestige are the carrots for that giant 7+ year stick, so I can’t really be upset with the attitudes that come out when they’re in a group. And now with the white coats distributed, and the stethoscopes duly hung around necks, they begin their new routine. Everyone in dress shoes for clincal rounds on Tuesdays, gross anatomy experiences bonding those who had never experienced death, and study groups meeting at the coffee shop.

Wyle as Dr. John Carter (courtesy NBC)

Wyle as Dr. John Carter (courtesy NBC)

It’s an experience I was never interested in, but I (clearly) view it with some nostalgia. I think I wish I knew all the doctors I now work with as newly-minted white coats. I wish I could watch them develop into the physicians and researchers they are today. And see first-hand how that person’s personality was formed.

I am reading Jerome Groopman‘s Second Opinion right now, and just saw an episode of Hopkins for the first time, which really doesn’t do much to de-romanticize the profession. So these thoughts are far more pronounced now than normal. Plus I can never discount the nostalgia I feel for ER, which I stopped watching in 1996 but is about to start its final season (with a return from Noah Wyle who was my first doctor stereotype after my family’s dry pediatrician).

Of course, I get my sometimes more than daily dose of Orac as well.



  1. I can’t wait for Noah Wyle’s return!! And P.S., I have watched all the Web extras from Hopkins–I am bummed it is over.

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