He said I was “disappointing” and I agreed

I stuck my head into the dark room and introduced myself, requesting permission to shadow the registrar who was on CT duty. This was the fourth day of my radiology elective I had registered for during the last two weeks of the summer holidays. I had chosen it primarily due to its convenience and the opportunity to expose myself to the field, but was also experiencing a great deal of FOMO (feeling of missing out) due to being the only one out of my friends who hadn’t undertaken an elective yet.

I was paired with Ben, whose name was very familiar to me. I braced myself for impact. A pal had done the very same elective a year prior, and had warned me about a senior registrar who had been very rude and insulting. He allegedly told her, “you can’t rely on being pretty to get through medicine” because she was unable to answer some basic medical questions. I still remember the audible gasps and cries of outrage when our circle of friends first learnt of the incident, and we all aggressively consoled her, calling him a prick and mocking this faceless creature who had slighted her. How dare he say such a thing?

So when I realised I was about to embark on a likely similarly humiliating journey I was ready. From our first greeting I could tell he was a very self-assured person, oozing enough confidence to generate an intimidating persona. But he also had a crude sense of humour and was clearly very popular, because everyone we strolled by would say hello and make jokes about his worn out shoes. And boy, were they a distressed pair of runners. Looked like they belonged in a recycling bin somewhere with the soles hanging on for dear life, only connected to the rest of the shoe by a few mighty strong threads. His bright socks peeked out from the gaping hole that widened each time a heel struck the floor, threatening to explode from their casing and run free across the tiled floor. I wondered how long it’d be before I was trampled all over by him.

Not long, was the answer. As we were waiting for the first patient to be prepped for an interventional procedure, I was asked some anatomy questions. Now, I majored in anatomy during my undergraduate degree, but there are plenty of things I either never learned or have completely forgotten over the years. Combined with the nerves that come with being put on the spot and still being on holiday mode, I blurted out a terribly wrong answer. He scoffed and ridiculed how awful my guess was, segueing into a beautifully worded short rant that I will now summarise in easy-to-digest dot points below:

  • You really don’t know anything
  • It’s okay you could not say anything that would disappoint me more, I’ve heard everything from you medical students
  • I have zero expectations of you guys
  • The quality of medical students has really… (never finished the sentence but we all know where it was heading)

Essentially, the take-away message was I am completely incompetent and inept. I might as well have walked in and introduced myself as an idiot. It was mildly embarrassing and I was a little disappointed for being so unimpressive, but I wasn’t as insulted as one might have thought. You might have expected me to be angry, indignant and using this as an opportunity to curse him to hell on a public platform. But I’m not. Sure, it was not the most appropriate way to present constructive criticism, but I knew he was just honestly voicing what many doctors who have encountered us medical students must’ve thought. I could also tell by his tone (which was a mixture of incredulity and humorous resignation) it was not meant to be a personal attack and that he probably had just encountered one too many medical students who didn’t meet his expectations.

Perhaps it was due to the fact I was aware of his non-conventional teaching habits and had mentally prepared for such a confrontation, but as he kept talking and reminded me about studying hard the whole situation became comical to me. Didn’t I call him a dick when my friend relayed her horrible experiences a year prior? And yet here I am, willingly subjecting myself to the same situation and somehow finding it fun. Maybe I was just curious as to what he’d actually be like in person (or wanted an opportunity to prove myself), but I was looking forward to how the rest of the morning would pan out.

And besides, I agreed with him. Maybe it was just the self-doubt talking, but it seemed like my own sentiments were being thrown at me and I was catching and pocketing them all. But don’t worry, I wasn’t going to go home and ruminate on them, letting these words demoralise my sensitive little soul, I was pocketing them all because I knew one day no one would have the right to say such words to me again. Yes, I currently seemed the ignorant fool and definitely should have been able to answer some of his questions, but it didn’t mean I was dumb. There are days where I do impress and get to go home feeling smug, and there are days like this one. Not knowing things is an integral part of being a student and we all learn at different paces. There is a huge learning curve ahead of us and although it will undoubtedly be a treacherous journey, we mostly all make it through and succeed. I may never be as exceptional and smart as he is, but I will become the competent doctor I need to be. His words didn’t hurt me.

So I nonchalantly took it on the chin and chuckled with him as he finished his little speech. Although I didn’t appreciate all of his words, I could respect his blunt honesty and in subsequent meetings he never mentioned such things again. He would let me tag along as much as I wanted, and answered all questions or tried to explain things that were obviously far beyond the scope of what I had ever experienced. He was genuinely passionate about his work and whilst I don’t think we could ever be friends (and I’d still rather not be spoken to that way if given a choice), I admired his work ethic and dedication to the field.

Oh, and the other reason I struggled to be mad at him is because he was an absolute genius, and practised what he preached. You could tell even the consultants took him seriously as an authoritative figure, and that his fixation with perfection meant the patients received the best care possible. Sure, I heard the line “95% of radiologists would not be able to do this,” one too many times, but his precision and finesse was remarkable. Choosing to perform a high-risk procedure on a patient with many co-morbidities takes a lot of balls, and as I watched the fine needle pass through skin and flesh to reach a microscopic target within bone I did wonder what he must’ve been like as a medical student. Definitely would’ve worked a lot harder than me. Either that or the man has photographic memory and a brain the size of a watermelon.

So I’m now at the conclusion of this post and I’m not sure how to end it. I guess I’ll just say that I am looking forward to one day reading this back and realising I have achieved my goal and have collected enough knowledge, experience and expertise to never be in such a situation again. By then, I hope to be the type of mentor that will be able to give encouraging advice to those underneath me, and inspire them to be the best they can be.

Please note that names have been altered to protect confidentiality.