10 March 2007

time for change!

first, i decided it was time to change my blog template. the dots were starting to drive me crazy. alas, my attempts to find some really neat artistic template failed when i realized that i was spending too much time tweaking and not enough time studying. so, for now, my html alterations on font, plus a different blogger template, will have to suffice.

but, when i titled this post "time for change," i wasn't thinking primarily about the template, or the impending daylight savings time debacle (does anyone know *why* we still do this? does it stem from hubris? i need my hour, dagnabit!). no, my thoughts were of a more radical sort: thoughts that call for alteration of our conventions.

my problem, at present, has to do with the conventions of being a woman in medical school. more specifically, my problem has to do with american definitions of "modesty," particularly in clinical settings. it's been insulting enough to be a female patient, one who gets asked to don a paper gown for every examination. does anybody really think that wrapping myself in paper preserves my modesty or my dignity? the darn things are practically translucent! not to mention they slide off with the slightest movement, rendering one nearly or totally naked in spite of the paper. but i digress. this week's problem isn't about being a patient, it's about the insult of being a female medical student.

****disclaimer: if you're the sort of person who cannot cope with precise anatomical descriptions of the human body, you might want to skip this post.****

that said, medical students, as i may have mentioned previously, learn the art of physical examination by practicing on one another. we do this in a large room, with a handful of physician instructors who wander around and monitor/amend our progress. it should, for all intents and purposes, be a very professional learning environment...right? wrong. first off, let me mention that the school chased off the only female physician instructor for our clinical exam class. (don't even get me started on how i feel about that--she was, after all, our best lecturer and really the only female role model here within an age range to which we could relate--i could vent for hours about my anger over her absence.) so, now, our clinical examination class (we call it ce for short) is led entirely by a staff of male physicians, most of whom are retired from clinical practice and/or getting there. don't get me wrong--some of these guys are brilliant and it's a privilege to get to learn from people who have been in practice for a number of years (i.e. 30+). since it's one of the anatomists/deans that refers to me (and every other woman in the class) as "honey," i can even say i have comparatively good rapport with these men.

however, on tuesday, our ce lab covered the cardiac exam. the night before, we got an email from one of the primary instructors, reminding us to wear our omm (osteopathic manipulative medicine) attire. this consists of shorts or sweatpants and a t-shirt. for the women, it also means we have to wear a sports bra. (the professor's email blithely mentioned that this piece of the attire was optional for the men.) supposedly, we have to wear sports bras to "preserve modesty" when doing the exam. whatever....

the cardiac exam requires that we remove our shirts, which is no big deal since we do it every week for our omm class anyway. however, in order to properly perform a cardiac exam (at least in the thorough manner in which we're taught to do it--i've never actually seen a physician perform each and every one of the components of the entire physical exam in a real clinical setting), we have to palpate the chest for the pmi (the pmi is the point of maximum impulse; it's about a 1cm spot on the chest where you can feel the heart beat up against the sternum/breastbone). when the physician instructor demonstrated this technique to the class, he (of course) chose some young chiseled man as his specimen. in order to find the pmi, the professor noted, we should find the level of the nipple line and move slightly inferior (below) that. any of you who are female readers should already begin to see the problem here. but did the professor mention it? no.

so, he instructs us to begin practicing on each other. several of the female students and i began working on each other. we quickly noticed a big problem: breasts. first off, when breasts are bound up in a tight-fitting sports bra, they don't move a whole lot. you can't really separate them, lift them, or otherwise get them out of the way without getting bound up and/or stuck in the elastic of the fabric. so, we tried to feel for the pmi around them. no luck. we tried to find the pmi on ourselves (so as not to have to molest our lab partners); again, no luck. at the 4th and 5th intercostal spaces (the areas between the fourth and fifth ribs), there is, in many of us, simply too much tissue to get anywhere near the breastbone. we were stumped. so, we did what any normal group of students would do: we called over one of our professors to ask for help.

the professor, upon hearing our question, turned bright red. by this point in the day (we'd had 5 hours of lecture already), i was too tired to censor myself, so i said, "haven't you seen like a million breasts in clinical practice? what's the big deal?" he stammered a bit and then said that it's different when it comes to students. what's different? i thought, my breasts? but fortunately, i bit my tongue before the questions came out of my mouth. essentially, we got no answer from him as to how to perform the exam properly. we were only given the impression that, in a room full of 80 students and a dozen faculty, the men were still afraid that someone would claim inappropriate behavior if they demonstrated on us.

after class, a bunch of us gathered and began talking about the experience. now i, having been a women's college graduate, really have no problem with breasts. (they're breasts, people! i wanted to shout. parts are parts!) in fact, as a medical student, after having seen cadavers and the like, i really don't have a problem with any body parts. but i also recognize that i am not everyone. some of my closest friends here are muslim. as such, they cannot remove their t-shirts in lab because we're in a co-ed lab. i asked one of them why the school did not offer her a separate lab session; apparently, one of the other medical schools kicked a muslim student out of school because she requested this. (can they do that?!?!? isn't that against our civil rights or something?!?!?)

is it 1950 again?

needless to say, i am angry. part of me wants to go to the next lab braless, but i have a feeling that'd give half the old guys heart attacks, and then i'd actually have to *use* the new cpr skills i just learned and...well...i'm not ready for that. i did end up emailing one of the professors and asking him to address the issue at the next session, but he hasn't replied to my message. am i surprised? no.

so, what is a girl to do? you might ask. for starters, never call a female over the age of 18 a girl. or honey for that matter. as for my solution? i scraped up my pennies and joined now.

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a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)