In with the Old, In with the New: Building Community and Continuity in Medical School

4:09 PM

Author | Rinat Tal

A couple of weeks before the start of my M1 year at the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS), I remember feeling a huge range of emotions. Of course, I was ecstatic to be coming to such an amazing "powerhouse" of an institution to finally start my medical education after three gap years. At the same time, I was anxious about leaving the city where I had built a community of mentors, role models and friends over seven years. I had also gotten used to having time to pursue my hobbies other than studying – what if I didn't have time to bake or sing anymore in medical school?!

Once I arrived and got started, I quickly saw that although beginning a new chapter in life inevitably comes with some initial discomfort, UMMS is the perfect place for me to learn lessons from new people and experiences, build new relationships and continue to grow.

As far as finding mentors and role models is concerned, there is no lack of incredible physicians here who want to uplift medical students. As our first unit of the year got underway, I started reaching out to those in different fields of interest to explore all that's out there (I've since learned that there is much more than I even knew existed!). I remember logging into a Zoom call in late September. Sitting in the virtual waiting room, I was nervous: What if the attending physician on the other side of the screen thought I was wasting her time? What if she thought my questions could have been answered with a Google search? However, she introduced herself and then immediately, cheerfully asked, "How can I help?" We spent the rest of the call discussing my interests, what life as a neonatologist looks like for her, opportunities to get involved in research and scheduling a time for me to come shadow in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) a few weeks later. After hanging up, I was both excited and overwhelmed by how many doors are open for medical students at UMMS. I was equally grateful that someone doing such important things and navigating such a busy schedule would take time out of her day just to "chat" with a first-year medical student who is trying to take full advantage of the next four years.

Had a great time learning more about Maternal-Fetal Medicine and shadowing Dr. Berman

Had a great time learning more about Maternal-Fetal Medicine and shadowing Dr. Berman


While I was struck by this physician's attitude and willingness to help, since that call, I've come to see that these conversations are not the exception but rather the norm at UMMS. I've had similar experiences with senior medical students and other attendings who have all been more than willing to help point me in the right direction. Since shadowing in the NICU, I also observed on the high-risk obstetrics floor of the hospital, in a fetal echocardiogram clinic, in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) and on a geriatrics consultation team.

During a conversation more recently, I was struck by the words of another physician, at the forefront of qualitative research in her field. She too was so willing to provide opportunities so that medical students can get involved in ways that are not only meaningful and personalized to their interests but will also help build them up for the future. When I expressed some insecurity because I don't have much experience writing research papers intended for publication, she reassured me that with her and the team I would have the tools and learn the skills. I know she would have said the same thing to any student. I imagine she didn't think there was anything unusual about the conversation, but it made me think even more about the community I've joined and the emphasis placed on opening doors for those coming up in their training.

The caliber of clinical role models and educators across the board is another reason I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow here; I know that I will be a physician who thinks about all aspects of my patients' lives and takes joy in getting to know them because I've had (and will continue to have!) examples who do the same. I've seen doctors make a conscious effort to empower their patients, diffuse tensions during difficult discussions and acknowledge when mental health needs must be met before delving into conversations about healthy habits and chronic disease risk.

Making holiday cookies with a fabulous group of American Medical Women's Association mentors and mentees

Making holiday cookies with a fabulous group of American Medical Women's Association mentors and mentees


I'm already becoming inspired by them and previous role models to help those who are currently applying to medical school and completing the pre-medical curriculum. Luckily for me, there are so many opportunities to begin practicing to be the type of mentor I want to be one day. As the undergraduate mentorship coordinator of our American Medical Women's Association chapter, I periodically meet with my own mentees and plan events that provide some guidance for the pre-medical years and help foster connections between undergraduates and their M1 mentors. I've also loved speaking with students at my undergraduate institution who are interested in applying to UMMS.

As for the hobbies I worried I wouldn't have time for, I'm happy to report that I've been able to continue them as a medical student and even picked up one more! To scratch my singing itch, I participate in a medical student a capella group, the Auscultations, and though I don't act or dance, I've had many opportunities to watch my classmates perform in shows like The Smoker and Biorhythms. I've been able to keep baking, especially because of M-Home's Flour Hour programming. And, at the encouragement of some friends in my class, I've taken up running and training for a half marathon (something I NEVER thought I would say about myself!). Because of the flexibility of our curriculum during the first year, I've had time to do these things while also staying in touch with friends and family in other states.

So, while I was initially apprehensive about leaving the comfort of a city I had grown to love, I now see that instead of leaving everything about it behind, I'm melding that stage of my life with my current experiences. I'm able to maintain those relationships and keep working with mentors from my gap years, even getting an academic paper published! At the same time, I'm making new connections and learning from incredible role models and classmates at UMMS. I know that these four years will foster personal and professional growth, and I can't wait to see what kind of physician I become.

Baking muffins for our classmates at Flour Hour!
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