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Med school for medicine? Nah dude – wind-sailing! April 8, 2013

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.
Not actual advertisement for the U of MN medical school

(not the actual advertisement in question for the U of M medical school)

Last Thursday’s Future Physician featured a doc/topic to whom/which I was very much looking forward: Dr.  Carrie Terrell – an Ob/Gyn at the University of Minnesota Women’s Specialties Clinic.

I was initially acquainted with with Dr. Terrell as one of the “visiting” physicians who provided abortion services at Midwest Health Center for Women (acquired over a year ago by Whole Woman’s Health) where I volunteered as a patient escort for over 5 years. While I didn’t have much opportunity to interact with Dr. Terrell directly during my years at the clinic due to my volunteer duties being on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, my experiences at MHCW provided the foundation for my inspiration to become a physician (inclusive of being able to provide abortion care for women), and Dr. Terrell was my initial point of contact for reaching out to a real-live physician to discuss my intent, plans and really to just get a first clue about where to start.

In addition to being incredibly gracious to meet with me and share her experiences in getting into med school and her journey leading to becoming an Ob/Gyn, Dr. Terrell was the one who opened doors for me to observe a number of surgeries and her clinical work at the U of M. She has generously provided me connections to other physicians, including to those through whom I’ve been given many learning and experience opportunities, such as with the Ladder and the Broadway Family Clinic.

Ok – enough prelude gushing, except to say that I hold Dr. Terrell in extremely high regard for my own personal reasons, in addition to my knowledge of the incredible work she does for women individually and for women’s rights and health on a more broad level. Now back to the part about being excited to have her present for my Future Physician class last week.

I had pinged her a couple weeks prior to class to say hello and that I was happy to see her on the docket for an upcoming class. She replied asking me if I thought there was anything in particular the class needed to hear. After thinking about it, I replied that I didn’t know how easy it would be to talk frankly about the politics of women’s health generally and abortion in particular to undergrads, but that I didn’t think it does anyone, especially wanna-be docs, any favors to talk about ob/gyn without at least passing mention of the framework in which women’s health exists and ob/gyns practice, including terminating pregnancies.

In addition to my hope that she would be able to address the topic of abortion in a head-on/matter-of-fact fashion, I thought it would be useful to prospective med school applicants for her to set some context and point out (especially recalling how naive and clueless of the real world I was as an undergrad),  that no one sees men’s health or urologists as controversial, no one stigmatizes prostate issues or erectile dysfunction; no man will ever be stuck with an unwanted pregnancy or die in childbirth. Yet women’s health issues and associated procedures never get to be as mundane as vasectomies or Viagra; ob/gyns never get to be as apolitical as urologists.

Dr. Terrell ended up discussing very frankly yet gently her life as an Ob/Gyn and role in the entire span of women’s health, including terminating pregnancies. She also pointed out the reality that very few physicians or researchers risk their lives simply by merit of the work they do, but Ob/Gyns like her who provide abortion care to women (along with researchers who do stem cell research and docs who provide some kinds of end-of-life care) can and do end up being targets – both figuratively and literally – of those opposed to how she takes care of women.

I found Dr. Terrell’s presentation to be excellent and very accessible, but I was irked to perceive the class atmosphere to be rather checked-out and unengaged relative to how engaged students usually are with the presenters, including fewer than usual questions asked at the end of the presentation. In fact, I’d noticed that there seemed fewer students than usual in the hall, leading me to ponder whether some number dropped over Spring break and/or whether a portion of students opted out because the prospect of hearing someone discuss lady-bits medicine is either so horrifying or so snooze-worry for under-grad pre-meds.

As an aside, I’ve progressed well into my pursuit of med school these past couple years with a large-ish chip on my shoulder that I have recently been learning to be, well – not quite so chip-on-sholder about – which is feeling rather smug about so much of the life/world/professional knowledge, perspective and experience I bring to the table as a prospective medical student/professional that (most) newly minted undergrads haven’t yet had the opportunity to grow/develop/acquire.

I’ve been learning some humility in that while my life experiences will most definitely provide added value to my pursuit of and contribution to medicine that I am certain I would not have acquired in the same fashion (if at all) had I entered straight from undergrad, I’m learning to not have such hubris about it either – as a) one could say I’ve also “lost” 15 or so years of pursuit of a career in medicine relative to physicians my age, and b) there are legion of amazing, socio/politically engaged and mindful, dynamic, passionate docs out there (like Dr. Terrell) who did enter med school immediately or not-too-long after undergrad.

However, Thursday’s weird class atmosphere of glassy-eyed-stares and crickets-chirping (except for the snickers when “vagina” was said)  really tripped my “omg you’re all a bunch of fucking children” reflex towards my classmates in particular, and current traditional-aged med school applicants generally. Particularly given how engaged the class has been on other topics, it seemed they couldn’t be arsed to even fake interest in the presentation because zomg-lady-bits-are-so-uninteresting or zomg-lady-bits-are-so-controversial or whatever.

My irkedness has progressed into just a sort of sadness that such is a representation of who’s applying to medical school these days, and a resigned sigh to recall that, well – what was my frame of mind/maturity level as an undergrad? I was all super duper wuper “I ❤ Jesus” and “don’t kill the babiez!!!” and trying to fightsies with my biology prof for both being a dyke and forcing me to learn about evolution.

I didn’t learn to even begin to think like a grown up about my lady-bits in particular (see what I did there :)) or women’s health issues generally until my mid-twenties, let alone start to grasp and care about the bigger fish of understanding context and implications of women’s health in the socio/political arenas, until I was nearly 30 years old.

Anyway – grumple-rumple-roar.

Dr. Terrell and I swapped thoughts about the whole thing, she wondering if she’s the best person to present on the topic to that audience, me asserting that it’s not about her – but about how we as a society have made it so that an Ob/Gyn enthusiastically presenting to a bunch of prospective pre-meds on taking care of women, and the blood, body fluids, procedures and gore (as well as all the not-gore) that entails is somehow less engaging (more controversial? more gross? more boring? all of the above?) , at least to some significant chunk of this demographic anyway, than when a neurosurgeon comes in showing slides of cracked-open skulls or talks about the death of one his patients.

Some other notions occurred to me as well that I believe adds to the mix/dynamic. Both Dr. Terrell and Dr. Grande (from one of last month’s Future Physician sessions) assert that being an Ob/Gyn and neurosurgeon, respectively, is the very air that they breathe; it’s not just what they are – like a job or even a career – but rather the very fabric and essence of who they are. However, my observation is that while that may be entirely true for both of them, the reality is that there’s something very qualitatively different about how each of them are allowed to embrace, express and wear those identities.

As Dr. Terrell pointed out – few other medical professionals have to worry that they’re in someone’s cross-hairs, at times literally. But even more than that (which is enough in and of itself) someone like Dr. Grande has the luxury of being able to be unabashedly and transparently emotional in sharing his joy as a neurosurgeon with a class full of hopeful med school wanna-bes (or anyone else). He’s at zero risk that anyone will ever berate, disapprove, taunt, undermine, ridicule, threaten, or harm him in any way for his life’s passion; he can afford to be vulnerable and share openly and unapologetically his enthusiasm.

To contrast – Dr. Terrell will rarely have the luxury of fully, unabashedly wearing her enthusiasm and passion for being an Ob/Gyn on her sleeve without watching her back, figuratively and literally. And while it’s happily unlikely that she’ll ever be in physical harm openly sharing that enthusiasm with a roomful of apathetic, self-absorbed undergrads who see med school as their opp to take up wind-sailing (for reals – Dr. Terrell mentioned seeing a poster advertisement for U of M med school featuring a dude wind-sailing), is it awesome to bare one’s heart, passion, enthusiasm and life’s-work, only to have it be met largely with at best blank stares and dismissal, or worse – outright criticism from not-yet-grown-ups blindly convicted by Jesus’ love of not-yet-babies? That’s a really suck vulnerable place to be, and frankly one to which I think not very many physicians would willingly subject themselves. But that’s the point isn’t it: none of them will ever have to.

Then there’s another less obvious consideration that I think plays into a class full of undergrads being bored at the prospect of an Ob/Gyn presentation: women’s health, women’s bodies, women’s medical procedures, women individually, collectively, topically are given short-shrift, less consideration and import – not only by men (generally) but by women themselves. But that’s a topic for another day.

I asserted to Dr. Terrell that short of being a stand up comic – I don’t know how one could tackle the topic any differently or more engagingly for such a crowd. Maybe just talk about how you get to go wind-sailing on the weekends.


1. Stefanie - April 9, 2013

Dr. Terrell sounds like a wonderful woman and a fantastic doctor. So very sad that in a pre-med class there were snickers at the word “vagina.” For all the issues you outlined and more, I am glad there are doctors like Dr. Terrell and I am glad you will also be joining the their ranks. I think what you are doing is brave and totally awesome and I am so proud to know you and so very happy for you 🙂

2. Preflash Gordon - April 10, 2013

You rock, Tara, and I’m sure Dr. Terrell values knowing you as much as you value knowing her. This also makes me reflect that one of the marks of a true heroine is when she takes up her work/passion in life with no expectation for rockstar oohs and aahs but simply, gracefully, and determinedly goes about her chosen business. Even though any observant outsider can see she well deserves oohs and aahs as much as any neurosurgeon.

If this fuels the furnace for you and makes you even more determined to be the rockstar ob/gyn of the world, then in a perverse way I’m happy for it. Lucky world, to have such driven yet principled folk as yourself itching to take up the banner. And when each moment like this throws another coal on the fire, lucky world all the more.

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