This summer I focused my attention towards pursuing clinical experience in healthcare in order to find out if I was indeed interested in medicine and also to find my likes and dislikes. I shadowed in my local hospital’s ER, worked as a lifeguard, and volunteered as a third-crew member with the local EMS. I intend on applying and ultimately enrolling in a Post-Baccalaureate Pre Medical program. Here are my top 5 lessons that I learned this past summer from the experiences.

  1.  Challenge Yourself:

Take risks. The only way you’re going to learn something is if you go big. Watch the best and then imitate. Don’t worry about getting something wrong. Capitalize on your mistakes and take them as a free lesson to better yourself for next time around. Those who end up at the top of the mountain didn’t just land there.

An example of this was when I was shadowing in the ER and a few new cases came up where the physician I was with told me, “Sometimes there are cases we all just hate and then there are some cases where we have absolutely no clue what we’re getting into. I’m telling you man, those are the cases you need to take or else you’re missing out on learning something new.” It’s so easy to stick to what you know, the mundane, so we play it safe. But what happens when you go beyond the illusion of safe boundaries we trap ourselves in? You have to take risks because that’s how you expand your horizons and learn. That’s a pearl of wisdom you can take and apply to academic settings as well. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

2.  Be Thorough:

During an emergency, it is critical to work fast, efficiently yet thoroughly which can be difficult under all of the extra stress added to the emergency. But I often found that even though people were using our services, there rarely was a dire emergency. That being said, emergencies aren’t planned, and it’s important that you practice practice practice for when it happens. Even though I’m just a third “volunteer” with the EMS, I’m expected to have basic life support skills which requires a lot of knowledge I was thankful to have learned from lifeguarding. My biggest challenge was learning all the different gear that I would be required to use in order to put in an iv line, take blood pressure, measure blood glucose, administer first aid, and even take a thorough medical history. It was important that I mentally prepare when going on a call so that I could do exactly what I needed to do. I messed up plenty of times at the beginning but I told my supervisor that I was still learning and that I wasn’t yet able to perform at my best. I eventually did and have continuously been offered to take an EMT class that would be paid for by the group. Still haven’t decided if I want to or not. Being thorough is a professional skill that allows you to increase the quality of your work by rounding all the bases and checking your own work and the product of asking for feedback and help constantly until you’re able to be a smooth operator.

This is my favorite example of being thorough and seeing things through to the end: “We’re a different kind of breed and I’m telling you this because you’re on the inside now…” I was energized when I heard the physician I was shadowing say that to me. He went on, “Sometimes I just get flustered why people can’t go the extra mile to see things through.” His comments came after a nurse called the dictation room that we were in and said that the patient left without the discharge papers. The doctor said, “Well where did they go?” the nurse replied, “I don’t know, probably the parking lot.” This was the most inspirational part of it all- the doctor got up and ran the discharge papers to the patient in the parking lot. “We’re a different kind of breed.”

3.  Communicate with your team:

Healthcare professionals rely on communication primarily for the sharing of patient information. This was extremely important in all of my clinical experiences this summer. In lifeguarding, when you activate an emergency activation plan for someone who has passed out, you have a group of lifeguards who don’t know what’s going on and it’s up to you to direct them to practice their skills in life-rescue. An example of this is when dealing with a deep water suspected neck injury, anywhere from 2-5 guards will be in the water assisting and you have to be able to effectively delegate to others and direct others to get a back-board, call 911 and request an ambulance, get the AED, etc. Mental prep is important, again, because emergencies aren’t planned and if you get caught unexpectedly, you can freeze up and everything can go to hell if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Information is shared with the EMS when you arrive on scene and a fire crew is already there but it is your responsibility to gather information in order to transport to a hospital and give them the information. Communication skills are required all throughout healthcare. I found it extremely useful to write down everything. For example, I’d document vitals and important pt information when answering calls with the EMS that I had found useful to the ER when I was shadowing in there. Having this understanding of the flow of information and what is relevant and not made for very efficient lines of communication.

Communication outside of the clinical experiences mirrors the same professional qualities. Sharing your thought process with a professor when answering open-ended questions, sharing your ideas in a group and expressing what you mean in general all play extremely important roles in building a professional foundation for oneself that will, again, make you efficient. This is a skill I’m glad to have worked on because it goes along with the other lessons in taking a risk but being able to get feedback on how to handle something differently. It’s part of growing up when you realize that not everything you say or do is the right thing.

4.  Compassion:

Patients are much more than what a brief history or chart can summarize. They are people who lead lives we may or may not be able to understand, but healthcare professionals are gifted with the ability to aid, guide and even heal people when they are most vulnerable. Sometimes during emergencies there doesn’t seem to be time to have extra conversation outside of what we’re taught to do. Leaving the safe harbors and going beyond what the books instruct and simply having one simply organic and unscripted social interaction is all it takes sometimes to change a person’s life, no matter how small it may seem to you. As Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really know another person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

My favorite example of this was when a 2 year old came into the ER after having fallen and cut her head. The mother told the doctor I was shadowing that the young patient was shy and scared. The doctor changed the way he was speaking to relate to the patient and asked to see the patient’s doll and then talked with her for a little bit explaining how his daughter used to have a doll like that. He then went to check the ears by first saying he was going to check the mother’s ears and then checked the patient’s ears, checked the mom’s throat and then checked the patient’s throat. After this was done and we left the patient’s room, the doctor told me that he spent the extra time and that he thought it would make all the difference for trusting doctors down the road so that the patient wouldn’t ever be scared or at least as scared for the next time. That was really intriguing to me but it was just a raw, organic interaction that I witnessed that you wouldn’t see in any book. There were many of those interactions I observed with the physicians I shadowed. It wasn’t every time if emergencies were going on, but when it happened, I was always amazed by the connection that was made between the physician and patient.

5.  You’re Only Human:

Live, lose, learn and above all- love what you do and those around you. Having balanced all of these clinical experiences this summer I really found myself enjoying helping others at the end of the day. From small interactions such as a wave or a smile when wearing a lifeguard uniform at a pool, an EMS outfit out in public, or even when in the room with a physician, comforting others who are in any sort of pain by putting a hand on the shoulder and reassuring them that they are the ones that matter will make you feel proud of yourself at the end of the day in a great way. However, when things go wrong, it can take its toll. “You can’t suffer with them (the patient) or else you’ll go down with it,” one of the physician’s I shadowed told me. They often utilize crude humor in the ER physican’s dictation room in order to keep at bay from all the animosity. Sometimes the humor fails and you need others to be there for you, and that’s an important part of the room that rarely gets talked about. Don’t ever suffer alone, always know who’s in your corner and who to go to when you need them most. Always learn from your mistakes but also realize sometimes things are out of your hands when all else fails. At the end of the day, you’re a product of the culmination of your words and actions. Working in the emergency setting this summer really showed me that it’s important to make the most out of each experience and to be grateful at the end of the day for all of the experiences that I have had, all that I have and all that I will have.