Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Can't Hide Forever

Me during most of med school.
Credit: CavinLicense
I laid low during medical school. I mean, I started a pro-life med student group, got Maureen Condic to come talk to on our campus, and prayed outside Planned Parenthood in my white coat, but I didn't have a lot of frank discussions with my peers, residents, or attendings about abortion, contraception, and primary sterilization. I stayed in the cocoon of "I don't have to do any of those things, so I don't have to explain why I'm not doing any of those things." (By contrast, one of my friends at another med school started a high-powered NFP group and is always ready to talk about it with poise.)

But I'm beginning to realize that as my responsibilities increase, my ability to hide decreases. A few circumstances have recently brought home how soon my cover is about to be totally blown. Worse yet: I'm about to be required to blow it myself.

Chairman's Letter
When you apply for residency programs through ERAS, you need letters of recommendation; minimum 3, maximum 4. Some programs require a "chairman's letter," that is, a letter from the department head of your chosen specialty. For this reason, I took an elective in the chair's specialty (urogyn) and spent several afternoons in his clinic, trying to show off my clinical skills and seem like an awesome person. I tried NOT to bring up anything related to contraception (should have been easy in urogyn, right??), but the Chair is apparently smarter than that.

Myeughh...why are you so perceptive and direct?
Credit: Niklas. License same.
The first thing he noticed was my cross. I wear the cross of San Damiano every day to remind me to be as humble and pure and excited as St. Francis was to rebuild the church. He asked about it, and he thus learned that I am Catholic. Immediately, he asked me about contraception and abortion. So I explained. 

Later, I arranged a meeting with him to ask for a letter. I forwarded the resume I was going to send to residency programs, which included my pro-life work, degree from TAC, and the Notre Dame Vita Institute. These meetings are one degree above formalities: at them, the letter-writer will inform the letter-seeker that yes, he/she can write a good letter. The writer may ask about career plans and other resume items, or things not on the resume.

He sat me down and said he'd be glad to write me a letter, but he needed to know more about how I would act in a few situations. And then the meeting became like an oral board exam: he pitched two scenarios and asked me what I would do. I knew my letter was hanging on this. Would I help in a C-section followed by a tubal if I was the resident on call for the night, and no one else was there? (Yes to the C-section, no to the tubal; not a great hardship for the attending, I think, if the attending is already scrubbed.) Would I refer to a partner MFM if I, as an MFM, was sent a patient who wanted an abortion? (I would recuse the referral and refer to the front desk.) This caught me slightly off-guard and made me realize that time is coming.

Running the Adolescent Clinic

On one of my rotations (adolescent medicine), I was frequently exposed to sexually active patients requesting hormones, for contraception or otherwise. This made me deeply unhappy and I was not at peace in that clinic, but I deferred management to the attending for the most part, which was easy as the student. I couldn't put in orders without a cosign, so everyone put in their own orders. I would talk around the prescription of oral contraceptives ("She's currently on ortho-cyclen.... She says she needs refills today"). 

One particular attending, an older gentleman, couldn't use the EMR. The residents and fellows usually put in orders for him, but one day there was no resident and no fellow in clinic. As the fellow sent me to clinic from morning rounds, she said, "you're just going to have to put in orders. I'll co-sign them later. Sorry for the trouble; you can figure it out, though."

I was in dread. Happily, a pediatrics resident showed up, so she put in all the orders. There was only one scare: I was the last one to leave clinic (woo-hoo for being a "good" med student), and the nurse ran up to me and said "Someone's order wasn't put in for her depo. Can you put it in?" Luckily I was able to text the fellow. But it's clear that my window of safety is closing.

Preparing for Interviews

I have been repeatedly advised to disclose my "beliefs" to program directors on the interview trail. This makes total sense to me: a residency program is a cross between a large and very consuming practice, a family, and a class. The perspective of a typical OB/GYN resident toward an intern who suddenly announces (after match or just before July 1) that she doesn't do x, y, or z is that the intern is deceptive, lazy, and manipulative. That sort of intern isn't well-liked, and she probably isn't going to get what she wants.

If, instead, the whole package (smiling, interesting, professional applicant with solid CV, grades, and letters, plus some relevant personal beliefs that will require extra work) is sold at once, the bait-and-switch and resulting resentment is all avoided. I might even hope to make the other residents curious about why I've chosen to do what I do.

So the time of hiding is over, and I must know show myself as I am. It'll be hard for me, because I have a strong desire to please, and the "limitations" that I insist on are not pleasing. I need to focus on how true, good, and beautiful my choices are; I need to be unafraid of being misunderstood; I need to be confident that God has a plan (hopefully a residency) for me where I can do His will safely.

Now it's time for courage, which is why I'm so glad that the CMA conference this year is on Courage in Medicine. I'm bending my schedule over backwards to go to it (carving out part of my sub-internship and making a 20-hour drive to my next away rotation), but I want the help. Please help me with your prayers as well.


  1. Keep in mind, dear sister, that being considered strange or misguided or even naive (which may be the kindest ways in which colleagues will think of you) may still not override (and can co-exist with) feelings of serious respect. And in a professional atmosphere, it is those attitudes of respect for your knowledge, abilities, skills, courtesy and kindness which will prevail. I am not dismissive of the fact that this is still very difficult - and I will be praying for you. Thank you for your courage and love for Christ. All will be well.

    1. Thanks, Teresa. You're right! We can be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.... I didn't realize that before you pointed it out. Thank you for your prayers!