At the white coat ceremony that marked our entrance into the medical community, we extended our arms backwards as our faculty advisors assisted us in donning white coats for the first time. We walked across a stage and received a black, rectangular box. Inside was a stethoscope: a tool for listening.
As we began to build our physical exam skills, our stethoscopes introduced us to the comforting consistency of the lub-dub from closing heart valves and the mysterious pitch of grumbles of bowel peristalsis. We also learned about listening for signs of the health of the lungs. Were the lung sounds clear bilaterally? Any crackles or wheezes? Was the vowel “e” or “a” winning a battle within the lung parenchyma, and how many times is appropriate to ask someone to whisper 99 before the interaction becomes uncomfortably awkward? In addition to the sounds our stethoscopes revealed, we also began to encounter the beauty of listening to patient stories. At times we sat in silence or held someone’s hand, while other times we shared in laughter or shed a few tears. We transitioned from the lecture hall to rotations, figuratively taking in a big, deep breath, as we tried to hold onto as much new information as possible in our first experiences in clinics, on hospital floors, and in operating rooms. In our symbolic inspiration we started discovering our identities not only as medical students but also as future physicians.
In March of 2020, our inspiration hit a pause. Our ability to use our stethoscopes or to listen to patient stories was temporarily held due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a mix of fear, sadness, and intellectual curiosity, we heard of ways a novel virus was affecting the lungs of numerous individuals. We quickly adapted as we engaged in virtual curriculum opportunities and demonstrated creativity as we found ways to help our community while away from the clinical learning environment. Unfortunately, a few months later, our breath was again paused as our city watched George Floyd’s death following pleas of not being able to breathe.
Amidst the challenges of the past year, we will exhale. We have returned to clinical rotations where stethoscopes around our necks are now accompanied by masks on our faces. Beyond heart, lung, and bowel sounds, it is wonderful to again listen to patient stories – although we recognize conversations are often with louder voices and less interpretable facial expressions. We are additionally grateful for the role of Becoming a Doctor courses in our figurative exhalation process. In exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, lungs recoil, and carbon dioxide is released. Becoming a Doctor courses have symbolically been times to breathe out as we experience the value of intentionally slowing down and taking time to reflect. These courses have created space for us to articulate frustrations and describe our hopes for positive change in the future. With this foundation, we look forward to pressing on in lifelong learning as we, with humility, strive to best serve our patients.
And so, we invite you to listen to our collective respiratory cycle: to moments of inspiration, pause, and exhalation. It is with deep gratitude we thank the incredible patients and the courageous, gifted authors who have contributed to this anthology as well as the thoughtful leaders, wise mentors, compassionate physicians, and faithful support networks who have helped us in becoming doctors at the University of Minnesota.
On behalf of the Student Editorial Board