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    In their own words: Medical students reflect on their journeys

    Through 55-word stories, students share aspects of their medical school experiences — from meaningful patient encounters to moments of joy and heartbreak.

    Medical students talking in class and sharing ideas

    55-word stories have a long tradition in medicine: Many medical schools invite their students to use the medium to document significant moments, while physicians use it as a way to process or reflect on the more difficult aspects of a career in medicine. 

    AAMCNews invited graduating medical students to submit 55-word stories about their medical school journeys — a particular interaction with a patient, how they’ve changed in four years, or another significant moment during this time. 

    Below is a selection of these stories. 

    On the joys and challenges of medical school:

    Megan Corn

    The growth was sudden and swift, but also so slow I didn’t even notice. Medical school will change you in ways that you don’t even notice until reflecting at the end of the four years. All I can say is, it has been the most amazing, thrilling journey, that I never hope to do again.—Megan Corn, University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

    Jonathan Walsh

    The most important thing you can learn during medical school isn’t how to answer questions; it’s how to ask questions. We’ve reached the point where AI can pass the USMLE, but while AI might have the answers, it’s useless unless it has the necessary information. Getting that information from the patient is up to you.—Jonathan Walsh, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

    Marinos Pylarinos

    Medical school — a musical snow globe, magical and completely enveloping. Unfortunately, life still happens on the outside; occasionally the music stops. It’s not just patients that die. The trick is figuring out how to give yourself a shake, wind yourself back up, get that snow falling and music playing again. The show must go on.—Marinos Pylarinos, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

    Kim Tran

    “You will grow so much.” The once unfamiliar halls become mapped roads trodden more than a thousand times; the silent strangers ambling past now beam at a comrade in arms and exchange warm greetings; the wavering uncertainty blossoms into a calm security; the road barrels forward, teeming with new adventures. What new growths lie ahead?—Kim Tran, LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine

    Jillian O’Shaughnessy

    Overpriced lattes and overworked laptops. Low-stakes gossip between practice questions. Exchanging tales of indefensible pimping failures to remedy our humiliation with laughter. Salty margarita rims after exams we swore we failed. Medical school was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’d do it a million times again if I could do it with them.—Jillian O’Shaughnessy, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University

    My third laparoscopic cholecystectomy with the grumpy attending. A stapler malfunction, lots of cursing, tensions rising, he fishes for the staple. Clearing my throat, “Do you mind if I try?” Tepidly, I grab for the staple resting on the loop of bowel — success! A smile forms under his mask, “Well, I’ll be damned, good job.”—Kevin Gertner, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine

    De’mond Glynn

    Of all the awards, achievements, and accolades, all the tests passed, challenges overcome, and concepts mastered, the most important event I experienced in medical school was a sick patient telling me, “Thank you for being kind.” Even at the most difficult of times, I would do it all again if that was the final reward.—De’mond Glynn, University of Kansas School of Medicine

    Michael Nichols

    We are sorry. You did not match to any position: 10 words that make you feel like you failed the ultimate mission. Colleagues, mentors, and faculty build you up. These are the people that fill your cup. Although the journey is different than planned, I cannot wait to impact my patients; I will still stand.—Michael Nichols, University of Kentucky College of Medicine [Nichols will complete a preliminary general surgery year before pursuing anesthesiology]

    On patients as people:  

    Natalie Alteri

    You and me, each behind a mask, but it doesn’t take more than our eyes locking to know that we are in this moment together. You pour out months of struggle in just a few minutes, we acknowledge the hardship and heartbreak. Together we pick a piece of the puzzle and start building something new.—Natalie Alteri, The University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix

    Carly Ferre

    Patient on swallow precautions, because of a recent trip to the MICU, for aspiration pneumonia. I go to examine her, lifting her sheets gingerly, to not disturb her sleep. And there, right by her mouth, is a Lindt chocolate bunny, with the head bit right off. When you’re 85, some things are worth aspirating for.—Carly Ferre, Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah

    Billy Nguyen

    It was 7:30 p.m., and the other patients were in bed. Across from me sat a late-20s veteran with PTSD and anterograde amnesia. We locked eyes. “I trust you.” The words left his lips and sliced the silence, followed by a throbbing drumbeat—my heart; it knew the way and told me where to go.—Billy Nguyen, The University of Oklahoma College of Medicine 

    Sunny Liu

    “He’s not just a patient; he’s a person. It’s only respectful to introduce yourself even if he won’t remember any of it.” —Attending anesthesiologist on why he introduced me, a shadowing med student, after the patient had received an amnesiac. Sometimes, we focus so much on the medicine that we lose sight of the person.—Sunny Liu, Duke University School of Medicine

    Kevin Reyes

    The helicopter’s blades slowed as it landed, transporting a man in agonizing pain from cancer. He shared of months of unacknowledged and neglected pain. Amidst treatment planning, I couldn’t help but prioritize time by his side. Ordering medications, I also ordered a listening ear and a warm embrace, ensuring he felt heard and cared for.—Kevin Reyes, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine 

    Mandy Perez

    My patient with opioid use disorder pats the seat next to me, inviting me to sit. She asks me, “Have you ever used substances before?” I look at her questioningly and say, “No I haven’t. Why?” My patient says, “It’s just that you talk and listen to me as if you know what it’s like.”—Mandy Perez, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

    On delivering bad news:

    Valery Kravchuk

    On the darkest day of my own life, an intern and I diagnosed a woman with cancer. I lied and said I had a migraine. I got to run and curl up in a ball. I’ll never know if the intern’s life was falling apart. Maybe all three of our souls were crushed that day.—Valery Kravchuk, University of Kentucky College of Medicine

    It was a rainy day. And through the skylights in the pediatric ICU I felt salty rain hitting my cheeks. A little girl was dying. Her family hugging her edematous body, that had once run, jumped, and played. There were no other options, the medical team said. As if we were talking about the rain.—Carly Ferre, Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah

    Christopher Economus

    His eyes locked hers, tears flowing down their cheeks. The world moved slowly, neither dared speak. Love so palpable, understanding so profound. Embracing him, she knew deep down. Stop aggressive measures and be at peace. He would be gone within a week. Emotions unspeakable, never to perish. What makes us alive, these moments we cherish.—Christopher Economus, Northeast Ohio Medical University

    Grace Noonan

    The resident quietly cries in the elevator after explaining a diagnosis of small cell lung cancer to a young patient. His father, I learned, suffered the same fate. That night, I cry for hours; for the patient, resident, both of their families. Medical school does not prepare us for grief, either over patients or ourselves.—Grace Noonan, University of Kansas School of Medicine

    On what it means to become a doctor:

    Alexander Chiang

    The first time someone thanked me for being a doctor broke my heart. I told a wife that her husband’s lung cancer was metastatic in the ED, because other doctors couldn’t fit them into their schedule for two months. She told me, “Thank you for being my doctor when no one else wanted to be.”—Alexander Chiang, California Northstate University College of Medicine

    Jenna Jensen

    In fourth-year, I often heard, “This won’t apply to you.” While true of ventilator settings, I still held the hand of the scared mom, her baby intubated. For weeks, I did one thing: cared. The mom gave me a keychain, covered in daisies. A daily reminder, as I enter intern year, that caring always applies.—Jenna Jensen, Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah

    Suhail Singh Sidhu

    In the dim glow of the night shift, as monitors beeped and patients slept, a quiet epiphany unfolded. Amidst the complexities of diagnoses and treatments, the human connection shone brightest. Each conversation and each shared moment of vulnerability reaffirmed my path. Internal Medicine became not just a specialty, but a calling to nurture my soul.—Suhail Singh Sidhu, Creighton University School of Medicine

    Cameron Quon

    My patients have taught me to see them beyond their disease. To pull up a chair, listen, and understand their goals. To do everything reasonable to design our plans in respect of their wishes. Sometimes the best treatment is no treatment. Success can be more than the absence of disease… but the presence of peace.
    —Cameron Quon, Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine