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Reflections Of A Clinician-Educator

A version of the following post by Kimberly Manning appeared on the blog Reflections of a Grady Doctor:

May and June mark the end of our academic year in medical education. The medical students either advance to the next level or become sho’ nuff and bonified doctors — albeit uncertified and untrained — but doctors nonetheless. The interns exit the novice stage and become residents — one week asking someone senior what to do, the next telling someone junior what to do. And of course, the senior residents and fellows finally get the stamp of approval that officially releases them from the nest. It’s kind of bittersweet for folks like me — the surrogate mommies and daddies that helped guide them along this path to becoming full-fledged physicians.

What used to make these transitions so hard for me is the nature of time. With time, some of the most seemingly memorable people can fade into fuzzy blurs, reduced completely to (snap your finger), “What was that guy’s name? Uggghh! It’s going to bother me all day! That guy with the sandy brown hair and freckles that went into cardiology!” That guy took call with you every third night in the ICU and ordered Chinese and Italian takeout with you. That guy told you that your inconsiderate boyfriend who made you cry between admissions was missing out and that it was his loss. That girl wrote you the nicest card at the end of the year, and even invited you to her wedding. Oh, and that student you worked with? She was the one you vowed to stay in contact with forever. What happened?

So here’s the thing: Life happens. People move and people move on. Those everyday surroundings fade into remote memories right along with some of the most everyday people. What does that mean? Does it mean that those things were somehow less important? Does it mean that we have allowed ourselves to become so busy with our business, and fussy with our fussiness that we’ve neglected to preserve the flowers that we used to smell every single day? Naaah. It’s not that simple. The older you get, the more you realize that there’s more to it than that.

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do for each person.”   ~ Aleksandra Lachut

My mother shared this quote with me the day before I got married. She elaborated on the importance of all three, and how fortunate those who can discern such a thing are when meeting people along life’s path. I’ve decided that this applies to the relationships fostered in medicine, too. There are some students and residents that I can close my eyes and see, hear, and bring to life with virtually no effort. Then there are classmates from medical school that I could not name if my life depended upon it.

There are also people that I’ve had only fleeting contact with professionally, who somehow clicked with me and became “keepers.” Like my friend Kris R. who worked with me at Grady for, like five seconds, but who, upon first meeting, was an automatic keeper. The instant friend that was only passing through but whose friendship felt exactly like worn-in slippers from the start, and who made me laugh so hard over dinner last week that I thought I would be sick. Or like my friend and fellow Grady doctor, Lesley M., who almost never shares the same clinic schedule or ward schedule or schedule period with me, but who seamlessly maintains “lifetime” status as one of the people I most look forward to seeing at work. The quantity of time a person spends with you, or even the quality alone for that matter, is not quite what determines where they will fall in the reason-season-or lifetime lineup. It seems to just happen on some higher plane that can’t be forced or explained.

I won’t take it personally if a student, a resident, or a colleague doesn’t remember me in high definition. It’s okay because I know that some will. And despite their best efforts, I know that the others will eventually recall me only as (snap your finger!), “You know! That black female Attending who wore the short haircut and wrote the touchy-feely blog?! You know who I’m talking about!” Yep. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s a reality that just is. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*


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