One medical student’s solution to feel at home while traveling for rotations.
Article by: Kaitlin Parks, third year medical student at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
Our first two years of med school are backsides-in-seats, lectures, exams, and two years of being in one location. But our third year is all about integrating that knowledge with clinical applications. We are in hospitals and clinics throughout the state seeing patients and developing treatment plans with physicians. Chasing clinical opportunities to learn and practice skills has been a priority for me. Some of my most challenging, educational, and rewarding months have been in our own hospital just across the street from the school where I spent the last two years. But I wouldn’t be dropping a chest tube in the ED of a metropolitan hospital with competing EM and Surgery residents as a third-year student who is just a few months into rotations. So, I have sought out a variety of rotations, some at the big academic centers as well as traveling to more remote parts of the state for opportunities to practice skills, and gain exposure to varying practice settings. Our school has a focus to provide care in rural settings, and a lot of us feel strongly that your zip code shouldn’t dictate your health or your access to care. Because of the mission to provide physicians to underserved areas, our school has a tremendous network of physicians and hospitals all over our state and a wealth of opportunities to learn in all these varied settings.
I like doing things. Working on an ambulance before medical school has been incredibly helpful, no doubt. But it also made it more of a challenge to sit down and just learn by reading. I missed talking to patients, treating them, comforting them. I missed the instant gratification of giving glucose to a diabetic with low blood sugar. During board prep season I would study for 12 hours by myself with great progress made, but nothing tangible to show for it. I needed balance with something I could see.
Let me tell you, leaks, fires, structural failures, rotten subfloors, shorted wiring: this baby has had plenty of tangible things that needed repair!
I always wanted to be better at routine maintenance and mechanical repair. I like being self-reliant and feeling capable. So much of the knowledge I needed for airstream repairs came from our pre-med requirements. Physics just made electrical and plumbing issues make sense. But like we are doing on clinical rotations, I needed some help to integrate the book knowledge into a practical application. Often, as soon as I felt like I made a solid repair, or understood something, the curve ball came. I spent hours leveling my future bed only to have it pointed out my trailer wasn’t level to start with. Maybe this is teaching me insight and problem solving which can be elusive with patients who have many problems. I’ve learned more skills than I expected, and, like in medicine, I relied so much on those who know much more than me to get here.
And perhaps that was the best part of this whole thing. Especially with a deadline approaching, my whole family and a very amazing friend stepped up in full force to be sure I would be safe, comfortable and that it would even look nice! I have many attendings and residents that fill this role as I work my way through complex cases, stepping in to rescue the day and teach me a lesson of critical thinking and problem solving.
In explaining the rigors of traveling and uncertain housing from month to month to my 14 yr old sister she said, “So you’re building a trailer for your cats”? Got to love teenagers. I have two cats who sit, stay, shake, and turn around on command (more readily when promised a treat). They are playful, friendly, and most of all snuggly. So sure, I really wanted to take them with me! You can feel isolated sometimes as you study to learn what seems an overwhelming amount of information separated from family and friends. My cats are pretty nonjudgmental.
Having my own kitchen, my belongings, and of course, my cats, has made focusing on rotations easier. I haven’t had to worry about cleaning up after roommates, or sleeping when I’m on night shifts and they are all on days. Of course, it has its own challenges, I have to find a place to park each month, tanks need filling and emptying, but overall, I would not do it differently.
I’ve always split a fierce love of travel with a home-body nature. This Airstream has allowed me to feel at home wherever it’s parked, and ready to work my backside off on rotations.