Preparation Time: 2-4 years, but varies from preparer to preparer
Cook Time: 4 years, if all goes well
2 cups Optimism (handle carefully, as this is combustible)
5 tablespoons Pessimism
3 ½ cups Empathy
3 cups Apathy
20 gallons Things to Memorize
1 cup Competitive Spirit (1 cup for low-tolerance, 3 cups for extra-strength)
3 teaspoons Procrastination (may quadruple in size when added to Student
1. Thaw ingredients. Allow adjustment to room temperature.
I never met my Big Sib. You know, the second-year medical student that a first-year, like me, is paired up with from the get-go of medical school. The Big Sib is a human map who helps the younger grasshopper navigate the jungle gym of classes, professors, and the new “medical student” identity. At the orientation barbecue when Little Sib and Big Sib were to be united, I was left directionless. My Big Sib never came, and I concluded that blood-related or not, I was destined to always remain an only child.
I remained in high spirits. With a burger and a giant cookie in my hand and an optimistic sparkle in my eye, I decided I would be okay without a map. I embarked on my first year with my homemade recipe for success: blend together curiosity and a zest for life; let sit, and voila!—I would be transformed into a super medical student and doctor.
2. Mix Student, Empathy, and Apathy together.
My medical school’s doctoring curriculum emphasized the importance of combining empathy and effective communication with the ability to wield the scientific technicalities of medicine at the patient’s bedside. I was a leaky faucet even during “touching” TV commercials. I knew I possessed compassion and the ability to connect with patients.
But I had no tears as I sliced my cadaver’s back for the first time in gross anatomy, noting with fascination how the skin pulled back to reveal a layer of fat. I was slicing open a human being. As the months progressed, my anatomy group did grosser and grosser (no pun intended) dissections. I stopped thinking and feeling.
We cut the lungs out of the body; we detached a leg; we removed and examined the eyeball. None of it fazed me. Standing in a room with 45 students, all brandishing bone saws and surgical scissors became ordinary behavior. I didn’t blink an eye when we pulled the brain from the skull. I walked home from lab hungry, dreaming of baked goods.
I knew the cadaver before us was a human being, my first patient. I knew we were taking apart the body. I just didn’t—or couldn’t—realize it. Six months after the start of anatomy, as I sliced open the cadaver’s cheek and saw the fat globules peeking out from beneath the puckered skin, it hit me again: I was slicing open a human being. The magnitude of all we’d been doing slammed into me like a long-due avalanche.
Where was our empathy? How could we destroy a body like this? Why weren’t disarticulated skulls marching through my sleep? Wouldn’t any normal person have bad dreams? I must be abnormal. Were all medical students abnormal?
That night at home, I gorged on chocolate chip cookies. The contradictory nature of gross anatomy in medical school had carved an infinite pit in my stomach.
3. Add in Competitive Spirit to taste. Do not to contaminate the batter with Sleep, Fun, and Exercise.
Sometimes I compare my present impressions with those I possessed at the beginning of this entire escapade. Medical school during the application process had seemed welcoming and reassuring, as though they were whispering in my ear: “We’re fluffy, and painless! Really!”
This was, of course, all before I learned the terms GUNNER and BITEMPORAL HEMIANOPSIA. As exams steamrolled over innocent students, I discovered that gunners were those who were ultra-competitive at the expense of their peers. Their existence challenged the image I had built for medical school. Wasn’t out-gunning and not helping our peers counterproductive to the goal to become doctors and save lives?
When our class received an anonymous email from a student with a self-made practice exam, I hated myself for being skeptical. Did the test contain false answers to screw everyone else up? Medical school had transformed me into someone who hesitated to believe a colleague would genuinely help the rest of the class.
Let me be clear—you didn’t have to be a gunner to study all the time. But studying nonstop did give you bitemporal hemianopsia, or tunnel vision. I don’t mean literally, but rather the way that works transformed 1000-kilowatt students into dimly lit glass-eyed studies who saw only the textbooks and had no peripheral vision for anything else.
While the doctoring courses in medical school taught me the importance of balance and the idea that a healthy physician leads to more effective care for the patient, I had turned into a tunnel-visioned student who barely had enough time to take care of herself. Advising patients to sleep and eat better made me feel like a hypocrite, who with every turn of a textbook page stuffed another slice of cake into her mouth.
4. Stir in remaining ingredients and let everything set.
Cookies and cakes were my self-prescribed medications to treat the confusion of living in the contradictory medical school environment. As I swallowed the food, I also choked down the competitive academics, the tunnel vision and the nonchalance with which I wielded my scalpel.
Sometimes, recipes seem contradictory. Why add sugar when you already sprinkled salt? When the batter is baked, the first delicious bite confirms the salt-sugar mix was a good move. Perhaps, the same is true for this recipe. Maybe when the cooking’s complete, the mix of empathy and apathy, competition and support, and balance and unbalance will all make sense. But then again, some recipes need to be tweaked. Is the medical student recipe perfect? Or tweak-able?
I don’t know. I’m only one-fourth of the way cooked.
Jasmine Zheng is a second-year medical student at Georgetown interested in the elimination of health disparities in the Asian/Pacific-Islander American population. Despite the rigors of medical school, she makes time to write, laugh and keep the optimistic sparkle in her eye.