How a popular TV show and real world experiences helped me take the leap into medicine.
As your typical millennial, I am subject to late-night Netflix binges. Grey’s Anatomy was no exception to my list of TV shows to devour in an unhealthy time period. Immediately taken with the show’s ability to throw you into the crazy world of surgical intern of Meredith Grey, I quickly became obsessed with the drama the shown is known for. Will Meredith choose to date her attending Derrick?? OMG, Derrick is married?? Will Christina and Burke ever appreciate each other’s differences?? Will George ever make it as a surgeon??
Now, at about the same time I began the show in 2015, I was accepted as volunteer in my college town’s private hospital. The point of the volunteer position was to help nurses clean the rooms and ambulate patients from triage to their respective rooms. In my perspective, the point of the volunteer position was to expose me to the equipment used in the treatment of the patients. I was a junior materials science and engineering major with the intent to pursue a career in biomaterials or creating materials necessary for use of hospital staff. In the volunteer position, I would be exposed to medical devices, medical supply packaging, and the process of disposing used supplies for at least 8 hours a week. “This will be an amazing experience for my resume,” I thought.
I started volunteering and it seemed simple enough. The majority of the equipment was obviously electrical-based, a specialty not touched in my major. Every single needle, medicine vial, catheter package, and suture kit was meticulously packaged in sterile plastic to avoid contamination or harm to providers. (I still wonder how much waste results from hospitals on a daily basis, it was sooooo much plastic.) The ER operated like a well-oiled machine: Triage, placement, blood work, physician diagnosis, treatment, discharge, clean, repeat. As an engineer, I appreciated the amount of organization and intent for flawless efficiency on each round of patients. The hospital was an assembly line of care, repairing each patient that came through our doors.
The moment I heard “MVC” on my third volunteer shift, I was thrown. I knew that word– how often was it thrown around in a fast-paced, traumatic scene of Grey’s Anatomy? The moment I translated it to ‘Motor Vehicle Collision,’ I felt excitement. (I imagine it is the same sort of excitement someone would feel the moment they are able to hear someone speak a language they are studying and their mind is immediately able to understand it.)
By my third or fourth week of shadowing the RN’s who took each patient’s blood and administered medications ordered by that day’s physician, I was able to begin connecting past experiences to current patients.
“I’ve vomited three times in the last two days and I still feel nauseated.” ‘Zofran,’ I would think to myself. 15 minutes later, the provider and RN administered Zofran.
“We need a grey-top blood sample for lactate tests, can you hand me the biological sample bag?” By my third experience of patients needing a lactate test, I knew to bring two bags: an empty bag for the three standard blood vials and one bag with ice for the lactate blood vial. The RN I typically worked with was so impressed, they let me place the biological blood bags in the container to be sent to the labs (I know, not that impressive, but I still felt like I was contributing to patient care.)
The moment I realized maybe I was enjoying this medicine thing more than this materials engineering thing was when we had a young boy come in with an obvious deformity to his right forearm. An x-ray confirmed his arm was broken, and a consult was placed for pediatric orthopedics. The nurse had a cart of medical wraps pulled out by the time the physician came to the ER. The provider explained that the wrap was meant as a preliminary hold to the broken arm. By adding water, the composite material would become flexible, allowing the physician to wrap it around whatever shape. The material would then dry to a harden shell, much like a more advanced and non-toxic paper mache. The harden shell would be wrapped with gauze and covered with a typical cast.
To be honest, I should’ve been more excited about learning the purpose and use of the materials used to fix the arm, but I was way more enthusiastic and interested in how the orthopedic physician prepped the patient, treated the arm, and placed the arm for future healing. That was my sign– I really enjoyed this medicine thing.
Going back to Grey’s Anatomy, I religiously watched the show as I experienced volunteering in the ER each week. I was able to make connections in the language and diagnoses the show had compared to what I actually experienced in the ER. By no means is Grey’s Anatomy 100% medically accurate, but it was enough to get me excited every time I walked into that hospital. And it was enough to scare me.
“Do I really enjoy this enough to pursue another 4 years of school? Do I really enjoy this enough to pursue a 5 year surgical residency? Do I really want to risk falling in love with my attending and starting a love triangle involving the entire hospital????” (Not really, though some valid fears of mine raised from emotional complications on the show, but that’s another blog.)
I struggled with this for quite some time the summer and semester I volunteered at the hospital and my first time watching through Grey’s Anatomy. Taking so long to make a decision is strange for me; I’m often quick and confident in all decisions. But this stumped me.
“Why does this scare me so much?”
One day, November 2015, I told myself, “I am going to medical school” and it felt right. It felt perfect. It felt as perfect as the moment when George passed his intern exam, when Izzie chews out Alex for trying to shame her for her underwear ad, when Dr. Bailey speaks. (For real, every single one of her lines are perfect.)
If anyone asks why I changed from a career in engineering to a career in medicine, I start with Grey’s Anatomy. I am well aware of it’s medical inaccuracies, but I give credit where credit is due. Learning various medical references and seeing some of them occur in real life granted me an excitement I have yet to lose in the year I’ve been a pre-med.
I’ve long since caught up to the entirety of the show, but my affinity to the show won’t be over anytime soon. Miss Redhead has upgraded her life to include a Hulu subscription and a dedication to catching up on the newest episodes. But, it is always good to know I can go back to Season 1, Episode 1 and take confidence that one day, I will become my own Intern Meredith to my own Attending Meredith.
It’s a beautiful day to save lives, little nuggets.