In my home city of Washington, D.C., citizens have taken the changes brought on by COVID-19 very seriously; social distancing, masking and frequent hand hygiene are now routine. These days, I am startled when I see the bottom half of someone’s face out in public. Our homes have become our sanctuaries. In the hospital, however, much of our work continues unabated. Orders are written, notes are signed, lab work is drawn, imaging is performed. Housestaff are on the front lines with nurses, respiratory therapists and patient care technicians taking care of the sickest patients day-in, day-out.
When I first met Rita, she didn’t make things easy. She fired a barrage of questions at me, punctuating her litany with the dreaded blow to every resident’s ego — “Are you a student?” — before slouching back on her bed, sweat glistening on her gray-streaked temples as though she had run a marathon.
You could feel it in the air, in how the nurses double-checked the orders, how the attendings’ notes bloated in size, and even in how the patients, despite their general lack of knowledge towards the inner workings of the hospital, exuded mild apprehension. It was day one of the academic year, the day that the new interns — my new interns — started.
I elected to pause my training after completion of a transitional year internship to enter active duty service as a United States Air Force flight surgeon. While it is a less-than-traditional pathway, it allowed me to serve a greater mission.
On September 25, we participated in a 15-minute unity break (effectively a walk-out) with over 450 residents and fellows at the University of Washington in protest of UW’s dismal contract proposals during our negotiations. It was led by the University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA), one of the few unions of resident doctors in the United States.
My senior and I had been on night float together for a few weeks. That night, the dimmed lights of the hospital corridors spilled into the workroom which was lit only by my computer screen, but that was enough. Despite the few months that I had been there as an intern, I could describe each inch of this room with my eyes closed.
It was 2 a.m. and I was downward-dog in the call room. Earlier during this maternal/child health rotation night shift, I had labored with three other moms in so many different positions that my back felt like it might actually break.
Of all the fulfilling and purposeful vocations to pursue, we’ve ended up trying to find our footing in the vast and ever-changing maze of medicine. Propelled by some combination of privilege, perseverance, and circumstance, we became doctors — many of us with the noble drive to heal and support other humans through the physical and spiritual struggles of life.
I am very pleased to welcome you all to a new academic year at the esteemed institution at which you find yourself, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, thanks to the Match. Late June is always somewhat bittersweet, but it is a simultaneously exciting time in the academic year.
Neurology resident physician Nita Chen, MD journals through her first year of residency in her graphic medicine column, Pocket Doodles: My First Year as a Physician.
I am an intern physician currently enrolled in a residency program, writing anonymously for fear of of retribution. I am also chronically injured and disabled. In my time off from work, I’ve had the chance to reflect on being injured in residency, and one particular incident comes to mind.
In the 1950s, my grandmother wanted to be a doctor. She asked her father for her dowry money, wanting to use it instead to get her medical degree to become the first female doctor in her hometown. She married another doctor and practiced from an office below her home, accepting vegetables and dry-cleaning services as pay.