A few weeks ago I had the privilege to serve as a camp counselor for the University of Arizona College of Medicine’s Summer Scrubs camp. The program is offered to young men and women from across the state going into their senior year of high school. These kids, often underprivileged or underrepresented, are interested in becoming doctors.
Twenty-four students were selected out of 500 applicants to reside near the UA COM-PHX campus. Every morning at 9 AM they headed to campus to listen to lectures on college, medical specialties, medical school, and medicine in general. Naturally lectures are broken up with clinical skills, field trips, simulations, dissections, and more. The jam-packed week gives the students a realistic idea of what it will take for them to become physicians.
Let me tell you. I did not think I would enjoy this as much as I did. There’s always a little trepidation with 17 year olds, especially since I’m nearly 26. It’s difficult to relate to them. Fortunately, these kids are bright and driven. They were there because they were truly interested in medicine, not because their parents made them attend. I was so surprised by the knowledge they already had.
A few of them surprised me. The idea of being “on-call” was quite repulsive to many students. I was asked which specialties avoid it. Some were surprised by the number of hours the guest speakers worked in a week. They had no idea that med school graduates have to “match” into residency. Their understanding of residency was warped by portrayals in shows like Grey’s Anatomy. By the end of the week some kids were considering different medical professions, like NP or PA.
I was plesantly surprised by the diversity of our speakers. Many physicians presenting were non-trads. One went to medical school at 40. Some waited to go to med school. Some went to med school then changed residencies. Becoming a physician is not a linear process for many of us.
There’s a part of me that worried about turning these young kids into versions of our overly-anxious, Type A pre-med selves. As college seniors they should be focusing on getting into college for their bachelor’s. While they need to be aware of what they can do in college to make themselves more competitive med school applicants, listening to them worry about picking specialties and residencies was anxiety-inducing.
As pre-meds we struggle for perfection. We are well-skilled in the art of the panic over grades, our MCAT scores, whether we’re doing enough to make ourselves competitive. I don’t feel it is right to rob these kids of an undergraduate experience. College will often be the first time they are away from their parents. They will learn so much about themselves and what they want in life. I’m afraid that if they’re so focused on getting into medical school, they’ll miss out on some of the best years of their life.
Regardless, I’m so very grateful for the opportunity to work with these brilliant young minds. I learned so much about myself. The struggle for perfection often leaves me wanting. I put myself down. I’m not doing enough. I’m doing well enough. But I was able to teach these kids so much. They recognized me as a mentor despite my non-trad status. They trusted my knowledge and judgement.
Being privy to their activities and lectures also solidified my desire to be a doctor. I love learning about the human body, about medicine, about people. Even being in the SIM lab was exciting. I want to keep moving forward. When my motivation flags, I’ll only need to remember this experience to keeping pushing toward my goals.