By Julia Werth
One word, just eight letters, but so much fear.
In August, when all 10 interns were first looking over our color-coded schedules many of us were zeroing on just one thing – clinical. It was the one thing we feared. The infamous rotation that could make or break us as interns. Mine didn’t start until January, not until 2018, I had nothing to worry about.
But as the months crept by, and January came ever closer, worry started creeping in.
“I don’t think I remember anything from undergrad,” I told my mom on the phone one night in early December, “and what am I even going to be asked to do?”
“You’ll be fine,” she said.
But would I be? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what would be expected of me or what to do to prepare. I had done well in school, but had I really learned anything, or had I just crammed it in for the test? I didn’t know how a hospital functioned or what role I, as a dietetic intern, could play in it. I didn’t know how much work I’d have or if I’d be able to have any free time during the rotation
I simply didn’t know anything.
I was anxious and teary-eyed the entire drive from home back to Maryland on New Year’s Day with four words repeating themselves over and over again in my head.
I start clinical tomorrow.
“What’s the matter?” my mom said, as I sobbed on the phone driving on the endless New Jersey turnpike.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I’m scared that I don’t know anything.”
Despite her reassurances that I’d be fine, as the sky got darker and darker I got more and more anxious, dreading when it would become light again.
When tomorrow arrived, I put on a sweater and dress pants, with my white lab coat stuffed in my backpack, and timidly began to discover what I didn’t know.
But over the 10 weeks – 41 days of work – fear eventually faded as I learned what I didn’t know.
I learned that clinical wasn’t scary, but it was challenging. I learned that there was a lot I didn’t remember from undergrad, but a little review at home could solve that. I learned that the time flies by in the hospital. I learned that my preceptors were there to help, not hurt, me. I learned that I could really make a difference for my patients. I learned that some people really, really like pudding, and others, really, really don’t. I learned that doctors would actually listen to what I had to say – most of the time anyway. Most importantly, I learned that helping my patients find foods that they actually liked and wanted to eat could bring a smile to their face, even in the midst of their illness.
“Is there anything else you think you’d like to eat,” I asked my patient. The third variation of the same question, desperately trying to figure out something that he would actually eat. He hadn’t been eating much of anything for the past two weeks. He wasn’t interested in the food and the two Ensures and puddings I sent him each day just sat in a mounting pile on his bedside table.
He shook his head.
I racked my brains. He was on a ground diet, I needed something soft, but something that was supposed to be that way so he wouldn’t think it looked gross.
“Do you like tuna?” I asked. His eye lit up instantly.
“Do you have that? Can I have that?”
“Yes!” I said, so happy to see his eagerness for this food. “I could send you a little bowl of tuna salad, would you try that?”
“I’d eat it all,” he said. “And egg salad! Do you have that?”
“Yes!” I said again. “I can send a little bowl of tuna salad with lunch and the egg salad with dinner, how does that sound?”
His smile said it all. And my answering smile made me realize the most surprising thing of all.
I actually liked clinical. Maybe, despite my initial doubts, my career would start in a hospital, although I’d never once pictured myself there.
My final week of staff relief, I started tearing up again, and naturally, I called my mom.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
And this time I did know.
“Tomorrow’s my last day of clinical,” I told her on the phone. “I can’t believe it.”
“You’re going to miss it aren’t you?” she asked.
The answer was simple and I knew it, Yes.
Now when I hear the word clinical I don’t feel scared. Those eight letters don’t send me into a panic. I don’t worry endlessly about what I don’t know. Instead, I think back with fondness, even on the toughest days where I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, all fear completely gone.
Clinical…it’s not that scary after all.