Internship. Residency. Putting everything you spent years learning into fast and furious practice is simultaneously an intoxicating and terrifying thing.
And yet…medical students, pharm students, nurses and chem students and so many other budding professionals start this chapter every year. The white coat ceremony flies by, graduation is celebrated, and then, seemingly immediately, it all becomes a lot more real a lot faster.
My story was no different. I found myself writing in my journal last night about a particularly trying experience, in fact, when it occurred to me, “No, this should be a blog—not a diary entry. I can’t be the only one with an experience like this.”
And here I am.
You already feel “out of place” at some terribly inconvenient times when you start medical residency or a practical internship. But, I wonder, have you felt “out of place” in a situation similar to mine?
Well, I had a pretty eventful Thursday. It went from scary to relieving to empowering, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
But before I dive into that, I want to make something clear. By the end of this tale you’ll learn how I ended up being in public in my white lab coat, which is something I never intended to do and don’t wish upon anyone! Our lab coats are the very symbol of our expertise—and our hygiene. It was an embarrassing and frustrating experiences in many ways, but ultimately was a bizarre case that I never saw coming.
Seriously. What happened to me was a complete accident—that said, some good ended up coming out of it.
Here’s what went down. As you all know, I’m pushing through my intern year slowly but surely. We’re required to wear our white lab coats and, for the same reasons I mentioned before, we only wear these when we’re actually at work. Some of us wear our coats when commuting to and from work, too, mostly because we’ll leave with the pockets full and it’s a hassle to take everything out every time you need to head home. I personally throw a jacket on over my coat when it isn’t too hot to do so.
So, Thursday. I got to work the same as any other day. I hopped off the subway, walked into the hospital and threw off my jacket.
A few hours into my shift my phone went off, which normally means my mom is calling—everyone else just texts. When I checked, it was my roommate, which is uncommon but not out of character. I was on duty, so I switched my phone to vibrate and let it go to voicemail. I figured I would return her call when I got on break, but immediately after my phone stopped buzzing she called again. I picked up to see if something was wrong, which was when the day’s first shock came: someone had broken into our apartment!
Thankfully, there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on that day at the hospital, so they let me step off duty to go and see if everything was okay. And I rushed out so quickly that I completely forgot about my outdoor jacket, and just left it at the hospital.
I hopped on the subway, got off at my stop, and practically ran the rest of the way home. And when I got there, my roommate’s car was parked on the driveway and she was standing on the curb talking to some police. The front door was wide open.
I went up and asked what had happened. Apparently, someone had forced the door open to get in. But luckily, someone walking by at the time saw what was happening and called 911.
The intruder took off when he heard the sirens, and my roommate said they must’ve gotten there pretty quickly because it doesn’t look like they took anything at all. We walked inside to make sure, and even though the doorknob was busted and things were knocked around, we didn’t see anything missing.
I felt so relieved. The panic started to dissolve and the world around me came back into sharper focus.
The officer said that it didn’t look like there was any damage done to the door itself, just to the lock mechanism. “Nothing that a screwdriver and a quick visit to the hardware store couldn’t fix,” he said. He even offered to stick around and make sure nobody messed with the house while we were gone, so my roommate and I hopped in her car and drove right to the nearest hardware shop.
When we walked in, I thought everyone was giving us weird looks. I figured I was being paranoid after what had happened and just shrugged it off. After going through a few aisles, though, my roommate turned to me with a weird look on her face and asked, “hey, I thought you weren’t supposed to have your lab coat on outside of work?”
It took me right up until that moment, between all the rushing around and commotion, to realized that I never took the white coat off at the hospital or at home—and LABTEX fabric with my designer lab coat isn’t exactly a “low-key look.”
Now the strange looks made sense. Oh well, though—I would get it dirtier if I took it off and slung it over my arm. And besides, I might lose the pens and tablet in my pockets.
One of the employees, with apparent good intentions, looked a little lost as he came up to us and asked if we needed any help finding anything (which we did). He led us to the right section and helped us pick out what we needed to fix our door.
And then, after a few chatting quips about my out-of-place attire, he mentioned that his daughter was currently in pre-med and was nervous about what to expect. He then asked me if I had any tips for her. I told him what all of us have heard or experienced at some point: “med school is a lot of work and a lot of stress, and there are times when it’ll seem like there is no getting out, but as long as we can all find our own ways to keep our heads down and keep moving forward it’s worth it in the end.”
I found a rhythm and embraced the moment, and added, “there’s nothing like the feeling of finally receiving your degree, and finally having ‘earned’ that white lab coat. And, of course, there’s nothing like the feeling of knowing you’re helping people every day.” He smiled, thanked me and led us to checkout. He left us with a final thanks for the advice, saying that it’ll mean the world to his daughter.
When we were leaving, a man holding his little girl’s hand held the door open for us. He glanced at my white lab coat and gave me a smile and a nod. And even better, his daughter gave me the biggest smile and positively beamed at my doctor coat. In that moment, I was beyond touched to be an example to this little girl. Did she want to be a doctor? Did she have a kids lab coat in her play bin at home? Did she have a good relationship with her pediatrician? I was overcome with good vibes.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to wear your lab coat outside of the hospital or examination room, the lab, etc. What happened to me was a total accident, but I got to see that the endless hours that we put into what we do pay off in a new way. All of the studying and testing in medical school, plus everything I had chosen to give to be able to do what we do…it doesn’t go unappreciated. And sometimes, for some of us, that might be all we need to keep going.