Head of the Class

david_with_the_head_of_goliathIt was hard to know if I belonged.  I wasn’t like the typical medical student.  I had never set out to become a doctor, it was never expected of me, and believe it or not, I kind of fell into it.  Now I’m not saying it was easy.  No, it was fucking hard.  I had an ulcer during my first year.  Unofficially, of course.  The doc that I saw gave me some Nexium, told me to reduce stress, and come back if I wasn’t better.  I got better and I never went back.

The first 2 years were the hardest.  Two years of sitting in a classroom, listening to endless lectures, dissection and labs, relentless testing and studying.  It was isolating and lonely.  I was so consumed with school, that looking back on pictures of myself, I noticed my hair had grown passed my shoulder blades, something that has never happened before or since.  I hate long hair.

When I met Dr. S during my first clinical rotation as a third year student, I found the equivalent of my spirit animal only in doctor form.  He was quirky.  He was smart.  He engaged with his patients.  He was the kind of doc that pulled up his seat next to the patient and listened!  That was crazy!  They said never sit, it only encourages the patient to talk more…oh what anarchy!  That was who I wanted to be!

Not only did he engage with his patients, but he engaged with me, the lowly med student.  He saw me.  He listened to me and he never berated me even when I didn’t know something.  He made me feel like one of them.  A doctor.  We became a little team.  He would call me up the night before clinic and say, “What color scrubs are you wearing tomorrow?”  He liked to match.  He and I would be like little twins.  I told you, he was quirky.

One of my favorite things about Dr. S?  He loved art.  During the first days of my rotation, he told me I had one homework assignment.  I was to discover and present his favorite piece of art to him by the end of the rotation.  He would give me hints and I would hurriedly scribble them into my pocket notebook between acid/base equations and medications for COPD.  Snippets of art were intermingled with cold hard facts of our trade.

Like a detective, I pieced together his hints.  What I didn’t realize until now is that he was teaching me how to be a detective for the patient.  He was teaching me to take all the hints and string them together to find the diagnosis.  He was teaching me to be a doctor.

By the way, his favorite artist was Caravaggio and his favorite painting was David with the Head of Goliath.  I found this to be quite morbid.  Caravaggio liked to paint decapitated heads.  The head of Goliath in David’s hand was a self portrait of the artist.  Dr. S said no one had ever figured out his favorite painting before.  Hard to believe now, but this was pre-Google days.  I’m pretty sure most of his students didn’t give a shit about art.

When I revealed his favorite artist and painting and gave a brief history, he kind of patted me on the shoulder and said, “You’re going to do alright, kid.”








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25 Responses to Head of the Class

  1. Susan says:

    That you find time to share priceless stories like this – amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chunchu says:

    You know what’s so catchy about this? I want to do medicine, and I love art so much! I’m still in high school, but…i’m actually quite inspired. My dreams are valid alright😊
    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great early mentor! Reminds me of an emeritus surgeon that gave us supplemental lessons during my surgical sub-internship. I don’t know if he was an art afficionado, but he did look comics. And I remember him stopping us as we began to practice patient presentations. “No no no! Start again. This time, tell it like you’re explaining to Charlie Brown. And remember… you only get 4 frames!”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aw I love that. Art and Science always seem pitted against one another but they’re two sides of the same coin so it’s wonderful to see a physician incorporate art as a learning tool 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great teacher can do a lot for a person. They can shape how they will live the rest of their lives. Good detective work. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. drugopinions says:

    What a great story! Love it. Maybe you can do the same if you have a med student.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 2ndhalfolife says:

    And indeed you have! How wonderful…….

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow wonderful story and, that’s why you are such a great doctor now.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. V.J. says:

    Great story! To the Dr. S’s of the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Deb says:

    What a heart-warming story. And yes, it would be great to reach out to him and connect again. I bet he still has some wonderful wisdom to share, as do you as well. Let us know what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. GREAT story. I imagine that he also benefited from the partnership, if the other students didn’t care. Is Dr. S still around?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Victo Dolore says:

    Ho awesome is that? We need more teachers like him.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. What an inspiring story! A crucial reminder when we tend to forget… that there ARE doctors with heart, humor and an appreciation for ART 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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