Well, in the palm of a surgical glove underneath which sat my five-minute-scrubbed-clean hand. A human chest lay open to the eyes of a veteran surgery team, and the attending surgeon had taken my arm and placed it into the chest so that my hand was situated posterior to the beating left ventricle. The rate of this heart was much slower than mine. I was only into my first month in my first year as a medical student – a nervous freshman to say the least. This was my first “wow” moment that I experienced in medical school and I have had countless similar ones since.
Three things stick with me to this day, and will for the future, from this early experience as a medical learner. First, never lose the sense of wonder and acknowledgement of privilege that comes with being fortunate enough to study medicine. Second, know your limits as a learner but be willing to expand consistently upon them. Third, the challenges that we face as learners are made worthwhile by interacting with the people we are lucky enough to call our patients.
My name is Preston Njaa and I am currently a third-year medical student in the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. I began my Clerkship at the beginning of August starting with the surgery rotation. The past two years have been filled with some of the most rewarding, trying, happy, exhausting and intense days of my life so far. I have gained much as a learner, a future physician, a team member, a colleague, a friend, a family member, and a human being and I know that there is much more to come.
There is no doubt that medical school is a lot of work. There are examinations, anatomy and other labs, assignments, papers, clinical skill courses and group work, as well as things like research and publication, shadowing physicians, and attending conferences. Early on, as per the advice of more senior medical students, residents, and physicians, I established a manageable work-life balance when I began my studies. Through trial and error, I have come up with a lifestyle that both allows me to complete the workload required of me as a student while still enjoying myself outside of medicine. I ensure that on nearly a daily basis, I get some form of exercise, eat healthy food, stay in contact with friends and family, play the guitar and enjoy a moment of quiet time. Different things work for different people, but I find that if you ensure that you do what you love outside of medicine than you are more likely to love what you do within it.
This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Physician Recruitment Agency of Saskatchewan’s Rural Externship Program (PREP), which is designed to expose medical students to medical practice in smaller, rural centres in Saskatchewan. I was fortunate enough to be placed in Shellbrook during the months of May and June. This program was a great opportunity to use some of the skills and knowledge that I had acquired during my first two years to work in the clinical setting under supervision and guidance from a physician. I was able to practice my history-taking and physical examination skills every day and was able to assist with some minor procedures and resuscitations. The staff at the hospital and clinics in Shellbrook are tremendously accommodating and a pleasure to work with. I now have a better understanding of rural medical practice in Saskatchewan and was able to experience life in a centre that I had not previously spent time in.
My journey through undergraduate education, into medicine, and one day into residency and practice is not of only my doing. There are numerous family members, friends, teachers, faculty, administrative staff, supervisors, coaches, teammates, colleagues and peers whom have impacted me in some way shape or form and I am forever grateful for their contributions. The College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan is a great place to learn and I have no regrets in terms of my choice of career direction.
To enjoy work in the medical field requires an inclination for and a commitment to a life full of learning and never stopping. There are constantly new research publications, procedures, equipment, treatment options, diseases and patients that present, and you must be able to adapt to an ever-changing environment. I am limited in my experience in the clinical environment thus far, but I am thrilled at the thought of what lies ahead for me in the coming months and years. I believe that as a learner and future healthcare worker I am constantly in control of three things: the attitude that I decide to show up with each day, where and to whom or what I direct my attention, and the amount of effort that I put into the task at hand.