Sometimes I forget how old I am. I look at a worm on the ground in the rain and want to make a home for it in earth like I did when I was six. I see the inviting grass in the park and want to lay down and search the clouds for shapes. I walk into my parents’ home, my childhood home, and want to forget adulthood, sit in the living room and read a book on the leather couch while the sun splays warm egg yolk through the old window squares.
Then I remember, as my children start yelling in mom’s kitchen, that the worm can’t make a home in my mudroom because I don’t have one, and the grass won’t let me lie in it because I have too many places to be.
I am jarred back into reality, who I am today, the age, the years, the incredible life that has happened between ages six and forty.
Last week I spent an afternoon as I have many times before, in the medical simulation center. No longer the learner, no longer reeling from performance anxiety and stress, I have now moved into the realm of teacher, supervisor, mentor. It is my turn to sit on the other side of the one way glass and watch my students as they navigate the process of simulation. This past session was about learning to take an “HPI”, or a “history of present illness”, from a patient. When I was a medical student, we didn’t have such experiences. We had no simulation center training until I was a resident. We just got thrown into the real world with real patients, after book learning about the “HPI”. My students now get to learn in a controlled environment, and after they attempt their own history taking, they get to debrief. The discussion afterwards takes place in the same room as they just practiced in, and involves two or three of their student peers, myself, and the simulated patient. The model goes like this: the student who did the simulation first tells the group how they felt it went, what they may have done well or would improve on next time. Then their peers add in their own advice, followed by the simulated patient detailing their experience and how they found the student’s behaviour and questioning. Finally I, as the mentor/teacher, provide some of my own advice and insights. The goal of all this is to help the students develop the skills of appropriate communication with patients; we discuss such things as the minutiae of open body language and avoiding distractions like fiddling with pens, the appropriate and inappropriate ways of asking questions, how to use a translator most effectively, etc.
During these sessions, I learn so much about my students (who I am mentoring for their entire four years of medical school), but I also learn about myself. I dig deep inside me to find nuggets, pearls of information gleaned over the years of experience with patients. I think back to who I was when I was in the position of second year medical student; how did I feel with patients? Was I comfortable, uncomfortable? Scared? Anxious? In fact, I was none of those things because I already had patient interview experience from my years as a first responder and then ambulance medic. I was ahead of the game. So then I find myself going even further back in time, to when I learned lifeguarding and first response. How did I feel approaching strangers to ask about symptoms? How did I overcome discomfort and stress?
Serving as a mentor to medical students is an exceedingly reflective and humbling role, and I feel blessed to have been recruited into this program at my University. Someone thought I would connect well with the students, and I like to think they were right.
Every time I have dinner with these students, mentor a simulation session or bring them on observation shifts in my Emergency Department, I feel something special – pride, joy, the intensity of discovery, through their eyes.
Then, for a few minutes, I feel six again, discovering the world anew.