Sunday, February 12, 2012
In 1960 my surgical colleague and I were seconded by the Department of Surgery, to the Department of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia for a year.My colleague liked it so much he stayed as an Assistant Professor in Anatomy, but I returned to my surgical training. We were designated Teaching Fellows in Anatomy and taught and assisted the 65, first year medical students, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; all long days in the dissection room. Keeping to the manual; not letting them forge ahead; not macerating the tissue and getting lost; keeping the human road map clear and avoiding misidentifying the signposts and going down the wrong road. We shepherded them throughout the year. They learned that under the skin we are all of the same clay, except the odd anomalous region where we are not. The famous examination that ushered in a sense of dread in all of them, was the spot examination. It was a step off the cliff that produced anticipation anxiety. Sixty-five specimen stations were set up on a quadrangular group of tables in a large room; each 2 stations manned on the outside by an invigilator from the teaching staff; and a bell rang every 90 seconds to signal the students to move to the next numbered station. Aside from the bell, and the rustle of their pen on paper, and scraping of chairs, there was no sound as they moved around the inside of the tables. Penned in like sheep being led to the slaughter. The stations may have contained a bone part to identify, a slide of pancreas with an arrow at an islet of Langerhans,a foramen at the base of the skull, a nerve tagged in a shoulder specimen, and so on! It was not only a test of knowledge, but a test of performance under pressure. I was manning the 2 stations next to the Department Chair. A student examining a slide in front of the chairman was not wearing a white shirt and tie. I heard the chairman say to the student, "Mr Doe, students of a medical class that are careless about their dress are likely to be careless about their practice and often do not pass this course!" As this man moved to my station, his distress was so devastating that I realized, at that moment, that a life in the academic community may be too far removed for my core, and wasn't enough for my reality. Him, the casualty: me, the lesson! A surgical career may be rough work, but at least, pressure and compassion go hand in hand in that milieu!