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Editor's Comments on 'A Medical Student’s Confessional'

 , June 19, 2017

Reflecting on my own medical school graduation last month, I find myself re-reading Viani's "A Medical Student's Confessional." Yes, the picture she paints is quite bleak. Viani describes a difficult, isolating, weary experience. Astute readers might even recognize telltale signs of clinical depression: feelings of worthlessness ("mine is the face the old men in my care must see upon waking"), low energy ("and rub my tired, petrified face in all the things/I yet am not"), and trouble sleeping ("I leave late at night and go home not to sleep/but to replay it all over"). 
But I have read few works by medical students that so perfectly sum up the fundamental conflict of the third year of medical school: balancing being a student, a doctor, and a human all at once. In this poem, the narrator has trouble identifying as any of these. She fails an exam, which jeopardizes her identity as a student. She feels as though her patients are unlucky when she enters their room in the morning, revealing she feels unworthy as a doctor. And finally, the dog imagery woven throughout the poem indicates that she barely even recognizes herself as human. 
Through this crisis of identity, Viani asks herself the question all medical students confront: how can I know so little and simultaneously be depended on for so much? Professors expect us to memorize innumerable facts. Attendings and residents demand that we be perpetually interested and eager to learn. And, unbelievably, patients trust us with their most intimate secrets. How do we accept that trust when we can't even trust ourselves? 
Of course there is no solution. This struggle is, unfortunately, part of becoming a physician. But Viani's poem is a great reminder to everyone in the medical field that this process is incredibly challenging. As I transition to starting my role as an intern, I will try to keep Viani's piece in mind. I will try to remember how hard the medical students around me are working. I will try to recognize and honor their humanity. I will try to remind them that their patients are lucky to have them. And that so am I.
Mara Feingold-Link