Last year, as I stood in front of adoring parents and friends during the White Coat Ceremony, I paid no attention to my white-clad classmates surrounding me. To me at that time, that was all they were — classmates. I knew I would sit with them in class and study with them. But I didn’t know that I would get much, much closer.
This past week, we had our 2nd microbiology lab, and for this lab, we were required to obtain samples from a classmate and streak them onto agar plates. Sounds simple enough…except that they were samples from our classmates’ throats and noses. Yes, we had to lift up the front of someone’s nose, stick a long wire into a nostril, twist the wire around a bit, and smear the contents. Afterwards, we sat with our mouths wide open as a classmate stuck a long Q-tip inside. I gagged (literally, as my tonsillar pillars were swabbed). But this wasn’t where we all started.
It all began in first year, when we had physical diagnosis labs. We learned physical exam techniques and practiced them on each other in small groups. Coming into our first lab on measuring blood pressure, we didn’t know what to expect. The least we knew was not to measure over clothes. Since men were required to wear professional long-sleeve, button-up shirts for lab, they had to take their shirts off to expose their arms. This was the start.
Later that year, for physio lab, we placed EKG leads on a classmate’s bare chest and watched his heart rhythms get recorded. For our cardiac and lung labs, we donned hospital gowns to practice ultrasound techniques, chest auscultation, and lung percussion on each other. For abdomen lab, we pressed deep into each others’ livers and spleens to check for enlargement. For ENT lab, we looked into each others noses, mouths, and ears and massaged each others’ necks to look for enlarged lymph nodes. For eye lab, classmates were close enough for our noses to nearly touch as they leaned in with their ophthalmoscope to look at my retina.
In many ways and after every day, I get closer to my classmates. We sit almost shoulder to shoulder in class, share many fears and tears, lend sweaters and scarves in AC-cold classrooms, and save extra burritos for each other. We’ve come so far from our first day in our white coats. My classmates aren’t just classmates anymore. They’re my friends, confidantes, colleagues, and fellow practicing physicians-to-be. And they’re going to be taking great care of people like me.