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What I Learned in Medical School

Personal Stories of Young Doctors

Kevin M. Takakuwa (Editor), Nick Rubashkin (Editor), Karen E. Herzig (Editor), Joycelyn Elders (Foreword)


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Like many an exclusive club, the medical profession subjects its prospective members to rigorous indoctrination: medical students are overloaded with work, deprived of sleep and normal human contact, drilled and tested and scheduled down to the last minute. Difficult as the regimen may be, for those who don't fit the traditional mold—white, male, middle-to-upper class, and heterosexual—medical school can be that much more harrowing. This riveting book tells the tales of a new generation of medical students—students whose varied backgrounds are far from traditional. Their stories will forever alter the way we see tomorrow's doctors.

In these pages, a black teenage mother overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds, an observant Muslim dons the hijab during training, an alcoholic hides her addiction. We hear the stories of an Asian refugee, a Mexican immigrant, a closeted Christian, an oversized woman—these once unlikely students are among those who describe their medical school experiences with uncommon candor, giving a close-up look at the inflexible curriculum, the pervasive competitive culture, and the daunting obstacles that come with being "different" in medical school. Their tales of courage are by turns poignant, amusing, eye-opening—and altogether unforgettable.
Foreword, by Joycelyn Elders

1. Being Refugee
Eddy V. Nguyen
2. Melanie’s Story
Melanie M. Watkins
3. Pavement
Nick Rubashkin
4. Whispers from the Third Generation
Paul M. Lantos
5. Borderlands
Marcia Casas
6. Poison in My Coffee
Heather Goff

7. Necessary Accessories
Nusheen Ameenuddin
8. Medical School Metamorphosis
Tresa Muir McNeal
9. Why Am I in Medical School?
Karen C. Kim
10. My Secret Life
"Linda Palafox"
11. Five Points Off for Going to Medical School
Rachel Umi Lee
12. Parasympathizing
Kevin{ths}M. Takakuwa
13. Sometimes, All You Can Do Is Laugh
Lainie Holman
14. A Prayer from a Closeted Christian
Anita Ramsetty
15. Seeing with New Eyes: How Ayurveda Transformed My Life
Akilesh Palanisamy

16. Hoka Hey
Robert "Lame Bull" McDonald
17. My Names
David Marcus
18. A Case Presentation
Tista Ghosh
19. Urology Blues
Ugo A. Ezenkwele
20. Like Everyone Else
Katherine M. Erdwinn
21. Daring to Be a Doctor
Simone C. Eastman-Uwan
22. A Graduation Speech
Thao Nguyen

Further Reading
Kevin M. Takakuwa is resident physician at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the medical school at the University of California, Davis. Nick Rubashkin is a medical student at Stanford University. Karen E. Herzig earned a Ph.D. in health psychology from the University of California, San Francisco, where she currently works as a researcher.
“How many would expect...a doctor with a learning disability, an obese doctor, or a Western-trained doctor who believes in the principles of Ayurveda? Still, they all persevered despite the odds and minds stacked against their success, and they believe they will be better doctors for it. Therein lies the value of this worthwhile read.”—Donna Chavez Booklist
"Compulsive reading for medical teachers."—British Medical Journal (Bmj)
“Candid and provocative. . . . A remarkable achievement.”—S. Ryan Gregory Jama
“Inspiring. . . . The strongest aspects of What I Learned in Medical School are the often poignant stories by the contributors, while the conclusions may move the discussion forward on the national stage.”—Don Kazak Palo Alto Weekly
“The latest in this genre of books, and one of the best.”—Frank Sanchez Palo Alto Weekly
“Poignant and revealing, this eclectic collection of short personal essays serves two complementary purposes. On one level, it recounts the challenges and joys medical students experience as they go through their training. On another, it critiques what these students must endure to become doctors-a grueling educational process that entails constant stress and exceedingly long work hours.”—Publishers Weekly
“A revealing collection of essays, in which non-stereotypical medical students describe their educational experience with varying degrees of candor, excitement, anger and humor.”—Jill Wolfson San Jose Mercury News
“Grippingly honest essays from a new generation of medical students.”—Rebecca Rakow Stanford Medical Student Clinical Journal
“Provides a diversity of authors and issues all in one place. . . . The stories are fresh and real, told on the front line as the students are trudging and battling their way through medical school. . . . The ultimate message of the work may be that, with the powerful resonance of voices of current medical students personified in these essays, calls for change can no longer be ignored.”—Alan Teo Synapse
“With so many physicians cynical about their profession, grumbling about how health maintenance organisations (HMOs) and residency regulations have ruined the party . . . this book can serve only to inspire. Whether for crotchety doctors, patients frightened by the anonymity of medicine, educators planning for the next generation of students, or lay people wondering just who will be sitting behind the next stethoscope that approaches them, What I Learned in Medical School provides a healthy dose of optimism.”—Danielle Ofri The Lancet
"A heartfelt, sincere, and broad-ranging collection of voices from the depths of struggle in medical education. You will find here doubts, anger, surprise, sometimes naivete—and you will also find hope."—Atul Gawande, M.D., author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

"This vibrant collection celebrates the diversity of medical trainees' experiences and brings to the forefront voices too often marginalized in medicine. Testament to the changing face of the profession, this volume reminds both healers and patients that medicine's strengths arise from the rich variety of its practitioners."—Sayantani DasGupta, MD, MPH, author of Her Own Medicine: A Woman's Journey from Student to Doctor

"The book has tremendous educational value and could be used as a catalyst for change."—Maureen S. O'Leary, MBA, RN, Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association

"In these beautifully written and deeply honest essays, medical students share a commitment to humanity that heals the wounds of isolation and reveals the power of diversity in the service of life. What I Learned in Medical School is a special book. Read it. It will make you proud to know your doctor."—Rachel Naomi Remen, author ofKitchen Table Wisdom

"An intriguing collection of strong and varied voices from the next generation of doctors. The narratives in this book challenge our assumptions about medical education and what makes a good physician, while reminding us, by their power, variety, and sincerity, of the many different roads that can be followed into medicine. The reader comes away with an appreciation for the richness and complexity that broadening the traditional profile of medicine and doctors brings to the profession and its practices."—Perri Klass, MD, author of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student

"This wonderful, thoughtful, and sometimes bitterly humorous collection of personal stories from medical students details what the medical practitioners of the future think about the medical establishment and its brutal educational program. The process of becoming an MD alienates many but builds a shared belief that struggle builds strength for a rewarding professional future. Doctors and patients alike will find reading about these journeys a fascinating experience."—Frances K. Conley, M.D., author of Walking Out on the Boys and Professor Emerita of Neurosurgery, Stanford University School of Medicine

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