When you start your clinical rotations in medical school, they say that you should not start with the specialty that you desire for your career. The thinking is that you need a rotation or two to work the kinks out. You need to get your bearings as a physician-in-training so that once you get to your chosen field, you are ready to impress.
Some medical students do not yet know what specialty they are interested in, but I was firmly committed to pediatrics. So when I got my schedule and saw Pediatrics listed as my first rotation, I was nervous that my chances of making the best first impression would be hindered but was determined to not let that happen.
Although my white coat was bestowed to me during medical student orientation, I had not had much opportunity to don it until my clinical rotations started. With too few hours of sleep behind me, I decided to iron my white coat, hoping my professional appearance would help add to my first impression. Not only did I need to impress my supervisors, but also earn the trust and respect of my patients. My ironing board at the time was a small tabletop board, which I lay on the floor of my bedroom and knelt beside. In my haste, the edge of the iron grazed the fleshy part of my thigh above my knee, branding me with a linear scar that would shine as a pearly reminder of this first day for years to come.
As a pediatrics resident, each time I pushed a leg through my scrub pants, I saw this scar and remembered those first-day nerves. On the days in the middle of the Winter when the hours are long and the thanks are few, it felt good to remember the days when I was so eager to be the best doctor I could be. Most days of my training were spent dressing in the dark while my husband and the rest of the world around us lay sleeping. My scrubs and fleece jackets were barely different from my pajamas and my hair spent more days in ponytails than not. I shudder to think what impression some of these appearances left on my patients. However, my scar reminded me of a day when I ironed my jacket and although the skin on my left thigh stung from its new mark, I never let the smile fade from my face. I think about this as I teach eager new medical students, and even new interns each July. Eleven years later I find it hard to see the scar anymore but will always remember its symbolism.