Monday, November 06, 2006

Oncoming train? Hopeful shining light?

BGLAM looking glamorous at GLMA

Although which parts of medical school are "best" can clearly be argued in many directions, I'd like to put out there that professional conferences are right up there. In addition to providing a much needed change of pace/location/weather/time zone and a new roup of people interested in similar issues, they offer something even more exciting to the pre-clinical medical student: a promise of things to come.

There's nothing quite like being a first or second year medical student, as far as I can tell. While you are ostensibly a "professional student," its still okay to wear ripped jeans and t-shirts to class (at least I think it is...). Although you're officially in medical school, you aren't seeing patients. In spite of the fact that you're learning all that you possibly can, given the number of hours in a day, you still don't have answers when your family member calls with some bizarre constellation of symptoms. Basically, it feels like many of the worst aspects of medical school are weighted toward the beginning. This feeling is substantiated by the fact that, in spite of their heavy post-call eyelids and tragic stories, the 3rd and 4th years can't seem to stop telling you how amazing it will be once you get through the misery of 1st and 2nd year. Oh, and how boards will be awful but 3rd and 4th year are absolutely fabulous! Did they mention that 3rd and 4th year are fantastic? Despite these constant reminders that there is, in fact, a light at the end of the tunnel, its easy to get sucked into books, binders, and all manner of busy-ness, and see that light only as an oncoming train. (It's amazing how often I've found myself using that joke-turned-clich since I've started medical school.)

Enter the professional conference (in this case the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Conference in beautiful San Francisco, CA). In addition to presenting information that implies that, yes, one day we will be caring for patients, there are huge numbers of other participants who ARE taking care of patients right now. They address everyone as though they were currently involved in patient care, and there's little to no harm in pretending for a few hours during a lecture that the information will be immediately relevant, rather than in a few years. And although there is some of the "blah blah blah in 5 years it will be so exciting," there's also a great deal of information that simply implies that: information about specific clinical issues, suggestions and guidelines for managing those issues, and analyses of how medicine as a whole responds to those issues.

Conferences like GLMA are particularly engaging because the content is so specific. We don't get nearly as much as we could (or should, although the administration tries and we're making progress) about specific LGBT health issues. It's refreshing to hear several days of lectures about those specific health topics that are relevant to my community, and communities that I may not be part of, but for which I have a special place in my heart (this is for you, my gay, bisexual, transgender, and other differently sexuality- and gender identity- related identifying friends). And although my medical school class is fantastically diverse, (it's really incredible for a class of around 170), there just isn't the same critical volume of queer* kids as there were in my undergrad class. GLMA helps ameliorate that loss, in that for at least a weekend.

Overall, conferences are a little reminder that life will be exciting. They can even make you feel like life is exciting now, even if it occasionally seems less than fantastic. And finally, conferences like GLMA are a chance to see medicine, where LGBT people seem to remain an underrepresented minority, not only as a light at the end of this tunnel that is medical school, but through a prism that splits it into a rainbow.

*A quick disclaimer on the word queer. I love the word - I use it as an umbrella term that for me encompasses lots of people with non-heteronormative/non-gender binary sexuality and gender identities. That being said, many people in my community, and those who are frequently grouped with that term, dont like it at all. Finally, while its often okay for people in a minority group to use a particular word, it's also often less okay for people outside of that group to use the same word. Conclusion and end of disclaimer: don't use the word queer unless you know that the person/people you are describing it with not only like the word, use it to describe themselves, but are also a-okay with you using it.

[I also have to include a "thank you" to the Diversity Office for funding a large portion of all of the students who attended the conference in San Francisco. The individuals in that office make so much of the incredible work on underrepresented minorities possible. Thanks!]

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