Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Staying in Touch

After a year of coursework in the School of Public Health and the beginning of a second summer of research I’m feeling less like a medical student than ever. Although I see my med school friends periodically (which never fails to send me into bouts of anxiety about returning to my clinical years), I feel quite solidly situated in the graduate school. I’ve found myself beginning conversations with “I’m a graduate student” rather than “I’m in medical school.” I’ve stopped being the token medical student in my cohort (at least I think so), and I talk less about the medical school. My research interests have shifted from physician biased, focused closely on my future clinical career, to a much less physician oriented research area (prison health and HIV). It’s been a strange transition, but one that has people commenting that I seem happier, more relaxed, and generally more pleasant to be around.

I attribute much of this to the more supportive and caring environment I’ve found in the School of Public Health, as well as to the exciting challenge of thinking for myself rather than just memorizing and regurgitating facts. Although I know folks who thrive in a very externally competitive environment, I think I do much better when I’m competing with myself. I also appreciate the openness and sense of community I’ve found in my cohort. Rather than being terrified to share our difficulties, and shy to mention successes, I think we share both the ups and downs of our academic careers much more openly than I did in the medical school. Additionally, although I made it through the first two years of medical school without serious academic problems (just a few slight bumps) I don’t like just memorizing facts. Even memorizing relationships is challenging because it’s not necessarily something that you thought through and came to on your own. The experience of graduate school fits my academic style much more (in spite of feeling challenging): writing papers and giving presentations about ideas and topics I’ve put together through reading the literature is much more stimulating. Apparently, the last few years of medical school are also more based on research and individual motivation, but I haven’t gotten there yet so I can’t really judge.

In spite of feeling like I’ve taken to the School of Public Health like a duck to water, I don’t want to lose my connection to clinical work and medical student advocacy. For this reason, I’ve stayed involved with AMSA, the American Medical Student Association. Having served last year as the chair of the LGBT Health Action Committee, I’ve stepped down a notch in the organization and am serving as the LGBT Grassroots Organizing Coordinator on our newly defined Committee on Gender and Sexuality. I spent last weekend at June meeting, the first of our two national leadership meetings, and it was wonderful. AMSA is a gathering of many of the medical students I have the most in common with. They are progressive, enthusiastic students working to make the world a better place.

This weekend I made plans to invigorate our network of regional and local LGBT activists and organizers. I have some exciting new tools, as well as a fantastic team of folks with lots of grassroots organizing experience, to help me get this off the ground. I’m also planning to make this year’s National Coming Out Day the biggest ever. Last year we had over 1300 medical students from across the country participate in that day’s festivities. Hopefully this year it can be bigger and even more meaningful.

This weekend was filled with meetings and discussion (literally: we met from approximately 8am to 8pm both Friday and Saturday). Although I’m exhausted and still recovering a few days later, I had a great time. Nothing like total immersion to keep you in touch with what being a medical student should really be about.

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