These are two words every aspiring surgeon hopes to hear. As one myself, I never imagined I would hear them during my first year of medical school. But hear them I did, and so began one of my favorite medical school stories.
The first year of medical school is full of new experiences for most students. We learn clinical skills, such as how to use our stethoscope and other tools. We learn human physiology and the inner workings of the body. We learn the reality of how limiting medicine can be, and we are introduced to the humble experience of finally caring for patients.
During this collection of experiences, we are simultaneously trying to figure out what specialty to go into. Some students may already have an idea while others are still figuring things out. I am the former. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a surgeon. Fascinated by surgical stories, I started shadowing surgeons at a young age, even seeing my first surgery — a total hip replacement — in middle school. I was mesmerized. They don't call it an operating "theater" for nothing.
Be persistent and follow your passion
Due to my surgical interests, I got involved in a surgical research lab in my first year. My research focused on blood type conversion of type B blood into type O blood. We were hoping to create a universal donor heart through our work. Our success in the lab on blood experiments led us to a high point — acquiring a heart to test our methods.
The day we got the call to acquire the heart, I stepped into the operating theater as I had so many times before, but this time was different. The surgeon looked over at me and said, "Scrub in."
The tight feel of two surgical gloves specifically sized for my hands reminded me with each minor movement that this was real — I was here, in the room, scrubbed in.
I stood in the back, watching while the surgeons worked rhythmically, the heart surgeon and the liver transplant surgeon coordinating with each other to make sure they were able to procure viable organs. I stood with my gloves, gown and mask, absorbing every movement, waiting for the surgeon to tell me when we could take the heart.
After several hours, he looked up at me and said, "Come feel this."
The strength of a human heart
I looked behind me, thinking surely he could not be asking me, the first-year medical student, to stand at the surgical table with him. But it was true — he was talking to me. I stepped forward, peering down with the clearest view of the donor's organs. He then instructed me to place my hands underneath her heart to feel the calcification his own hands had just discovered. And for the first time in my life, I felt the strength of a human heart, beating in a woman's chest in the palm of my hand.
Just thinking back to this day makes my heart race. Recalling this memory (one of many medical school stories) brings me joy and conviction. While medical school will challenge you in many ways, it is experiences like this that remind me why I chose this path.
By Nahda Harati