Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dear Third Space

Third Space Magazine is a student-run literary magazine for Harvard medical students, residents, and faculty. It publishes fiction, prose, poetry, and art biannually.

I am currently involved in the Chief Complaints section, a mock advice column.  My first contribution:

Dear Third Space,

I dislike my anatomy lab partner, but I dislike confrontation even more.  Do you have any suggestions about how I can passive-aggressively voice my displeasure? 

- Silent Rage Behind the Scalpel

Dear Silent,

The important thing to remember is, when donning the blue scrubs and gown, one must remain professional.  As we learned during Introduction to the Profession, being professional involves not raising your voice, not using your scalpel to nick your partner’s forearm, not burying fat in your partner’s hair, not naming your cadaver after your partner, not spraying formalin in your partner’s locker, not hiding your partner’s pants in the changing room, and not taking a hammer and chisel to your partner’s kneecaps.

It is also important to remember that every medical student in the anatomy lab is nervous and frightened to be there.  She may have had bad experiences in anatomy labs before.  Maybe she mistrusts the anatomy directors.  Maybe the anatomy labs here are not like the anatomy labs she is used to.  You must find out more about your partner as a person.  Instead of making assumptions about your partner’s expectations regarding anatomy lab, take the time to talk to her about them.

A good place to start would be to ask her what brings her into the anatomy lab today.  Try to obtain her explanatory model for why she thinks she is here.  It is also important to make empathic statements.  If she accidentally cuts the phrenic nerve, you may say, “This must be hard for you.”  Try to make your questions non-judgmental, and make the transitions natural but clear. Perhaps while she is dissecting the liver, ask her how many drinks she has each week.  While she is looking for the bulbospongiosus muscle, inquire “men, women, or both?"  While you both dig through fat, ask her if she is interested in exercising more.   Try offering advice about STD testing, AA meetings, or birth control in passing, just to let her know your door is open for additional questions.  Ask her how many children or grandchildren she has, and what she is most looking forward to doing when she leaves the anatomy lab.

No matter what, it is important to maintain an air of professionalism and understanding.  Remember, not all of this has to be accomplished in just one session.  Sometimes you may have to broach sensitive issues repeatedly on follow-up meetings until she eventually gives you satisfactory answers.  The partner-partner relationship is a unique, delicate, and long-standing one and should be treated as such.

Always Professional


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