The rules for being a medical student

In a Professional Competencies class, the students of Michael DeGroote’s School of Medicine class 2018 had a lecture about Narrative Medicine. They did a close reading of Jamaica Kincaid’s short story “Girl” and were then given 8 minutes to write a reflection to the prompt: “What are the rules for being a medical student?” 

This post lists some of the writing that came about from this exercise. 


I don’t know what the rules of being a medical student are, besides the obvious ones—like study, be professional, be confident, be perfect. Sometimes I think I don’t even know the rules of being me, and I’ve been at that for 24 years. I’ll tell myself: I’ll figure it out as I go along. And I’ll tell myself also: fucking when? And: what am I doing? And: I’m not ready. And: one of these is not like the other (me).

But maybe that’s part of what being a medical student is: unsure, sometimes insecure, torn between this idea of who I am and who I ought to be,


Professionalism is paramount.
Be respectful & polite & quiet.
Then summarize & share what you’ve read & read some more.

You are a sponge,
and you have three years to absorb all that you can and all that you think you
might need to know

“Take advantage” of this time, whatever that exactly means –
tutorials, anatomy lab, pro comp, horizontals, research, social life, interest
groups, the list is unending…
Am I doing this right?

Feedback. We love it. We give and take and attempt to integrate.
Empathy. Develop this, but, we warn you, you are going to lose it. But keep practicing
and working on it.

Don’t forget your stethoscope –
in whichever colour you so excitedly chose back in week one.
use it correctly and hope it will share with you the heart sounds your preceptor
wants you to hear.
wear it and feel unworthy or inadequate or excited or all three.

Vitals & physical exams & histories.
Learn these skills well and practice them often.
And self-care too, if you have time

It’s funny how moving to the other side of the admissions process changes so much,
Welcomes, opportunities, accolades, emails, and support overflow
It feels excessive sometimes
Like I’m undeserving of all of this
Am I worthy of belonging here?

*Last paragraph added after 8 minutes mark


I try not to think about the rules really, I want to be able to trust my gut. So what are the rules really: To learn and study hard? To do the best? To respect your supervisors and your patients? Are these things so far removed from the normal that they have to be considered “rules”?

Can I question my supervisors? Politely, of course, but can I call them out when I disagree? Will I have the courage to do that? And if a patient is being rude- do I have the right to refuse to talk to them until they calm down?

I don’t like the idea of rules, I wish they weren’t necessary and that we would all know what proper behaviour was. Dress professionally? For what; for whom? Does anyone really care beyond that judgement of appearance? And as for confidentiality, gosh people, we just need common sense. Would anyone really share private stories from anyone to someone else without consent?

Why is being in medicine considered a step above being another well meaning human being? Why is doctor-patient respect different from respect you would give anyone else? The Rules themselves put us on a pedestal.

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