Please welcome today’s guest writer, Wentiirim Annankra. Wentiirim is originally from Ghana and graduated from Calvin in 2016 with a major in biochemistry. She is currently in her third year at the Medical School for International Health (MSIH-BGU), a medical school with an emphasis in Global health in Beersheva, Israel.
I sat right in front of the class, my chin propped up on my right palm. My gaze was fixed on my microbiology professor, almost unblinking. The class was quiet, so quiet that you could hear a pin drop—literally. As first years, we sat in room 605 of the internal medicine building, way above the hospital wards from the first to the fifth floors. Here we were learning about various bacteria. There were so many bacteria to learn. There was the streptococcus, mycoplasma, enterococcus etc. And within some families there were different strains. We had to know how to identify them clinically, and the various traits that made them virulent. However, this was the more dangerous part: we had to learn what antibiotics work for each. Oh my! We made up funny mnemonics to remember them all. We also had to learn which antibiotics had developed resistance. Learning which antibiotic was needed for each of the hundreds of bacteria we were going to learn by April next year was so important because if we were to give the wrong one, there are many risks. For example, the patient could deteriorate further and perhaps die. Or maybe, the bacteria within the patient could develop resistance to the available antibiotics and there would be no other alternative to help your patient survive.
“So, I always have this talk with medical students,” the lively female professor suddenly grew solemn and every eye in the class was fixed on her. “In a real clinical setting, especially here at Soroka Hospital with so many people coming from all over the Negev and Southern Israel with different cases, you have to quickly assess each patient and make a decision. Now in every decision you make, there may be side effects, but you have to make a decision.” She told us of how one time, she made a wrong diagnosis and gave the wrong antibiotic, but thankfully the patient did not die. She shared other stories of mistakes she had made in various clinical settings. As I stared at her, the realization began to sink in. The long list of antibiotics on the paper before me began to take a different look. It was not about memorizing each bacterium and the corresponding treatment for the sake of getting a good grade. What are grades? Rather, it was all about getting them right so that I can make the right decision and save a patient’s life. Oh God help me.
“They trust you as a doctor,” she went on. “They put their lives in your hands and trust you to save them. You have to know this and know this well. Yes, you will make a mistake, but when you make mistakes, you have to learn from them and move on.” With that she turned back to the PowerPoint and continued teaching. However, even though my eyes followed her, my mind was stuck back in time. Why did she share her mistakes with us? Wasn’t she afraid how we might perceive her after learning about her mistakes? I do not know about how my classmates took it. But for me, I respected her more. Yes, she showed us what real life was like and offered a hope: when you make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Other people need you.
I don’t know what was so special about that week, but in another class, a biostatistics professor was lecturing about some facts most of us knew. So most of us barely paid attention. Then unexpectedly, we were jolted back into reality. There was something about his tone that suddenly had a raw sincerity in it. I focused on him. “This is why you need you know the difference between the data presented for males and females,” he said. “It is not a gender bias. Sometimes a lady may complain about a set of problems you usually hear in males. You need to assess the situation carefully and not just go ahead and address her situation as you will do for males. They are different.” He shared an incident when he made a mistake and his actions had dire consequences on his female patient. “Oh… why are you telling us this?” I thought to myself. It was getting sensitive in the classroom. But I realized how valuable this information was for us, an upcoming generation of doctors. Our professors were willing to share their mistakes, so we could learn from them. They wanted us to learn even though it can be uncomfortable sharing your faults with people who look up to you. I wonder, would they be standing before us if they had succumbed to their failures and never learnt from them and moved on?