For medical students, listening to stories told by working physicians and medical education leaders is a valuable experience, said Naomi Hodde, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and hospitalist at UVM Medical Center, where she treats cancer patients and trains staff how to have end-of-life conversations.
“We have to process the emotions that come up, and it’s important to do that with your coworkers, your nurses, your team. It’s valuable for mental health, improving connection, and preventing burnout, and to understand that is so important for medical students,” Hodde said. “As a working physician and professor at Larner, modeling that vulnerability for the students and the residents is critical, so that they can see it is okay to be emotional, and that working through it is important.”
Hodde told a story at the StorySlam about how her skills and status as a physician were tested when her brother was diagnosed with cancer. “Trying to be all things to all people all the time is not something that’s easily navigated,” she said, closing her story with the realization that she couldn’t be both a loving sister and her brother’s medical advisor simultaneously, and what her brother needed most from her was love and support.
Sandoval told a story about how she changed from “a ‘Charlie’s Angel’ to a ‘Golden Girl’” when she was a third-year resident. Working with two other female residents in the medical intensive care unit, she felt confident and cool, like one of the three crime-fighting women in the television drama, until she witnessed a young man die very quickly. “We couldn’t save him. That’s not what’s supposed to happen,” she told the audience. “We couldn’t get past the fact that we couldn’t save this young man. It changed the way that I approached every room I entered, every patient I saw … It taught me humility … It taught me to be a ‘Golden Girl,’” she said, referring to the TV comedy series about sassy elder women who share a home, and made her realize that the most treasured part of that rotation was the two other women she worked with.
Audience members were prompted to share their own brief stories written on slips of paper and read aloud by Schmidt. In response to the prompt, “Tell us about a time you had gratitude for a lesson you weren’t sure you wanted to learn,” one person wrote: “Realizing how isolating medical school is and figuring out how to navigate it with therapy and leaning into my support system.” Another wrote: “I’m grateful for precautionary tales to avoid wearing dangly jewelry at the bedside.”
The event wrapped up with Lewis First, M.D., professor and chair of pediatrics and chief of pediatrics at UVM Children's Hospital, describing three different types of humbling moments during his career: A “horrifying” humbling moment in his early residency, when he made a child experience unnecessary pain by trying to relocate what he overconfidently thought was a dislocated elbow when the problem was actually a broken arm; A “stupid” humbling moment when, as an early faculty member in the emergency department, First administered the appropriate medication to a child experiencing an epileptic seizure (a treatment he had administered numerous times successfully) before getting the child’s medical history, which revealed the patient’s allergy to that medication, resulting in a serious allergic reaction; and a “gratifying” humbling moment, when his granddaughter was born with life-threatening breathing difficulties and the team caring for her said, “We got this, be the grandfather and not the chief of pediatrics.” First concluded by saying “What I hope for all of you is that, whether you are the health care professional, or the patient being cared for, your humbling moments are not horrifying, that they are not stupid, but that they are gratifying—which is the best kind of humbling moment to have."