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Medical School and Graduate School: An anthropological comparison
October 9, 2010Posted by on
Like many/most biological anthropology graduate students have to do at some point in their careers, I’m taking gross anatomy and histology with the first year medical students this fall. What a culture shock!
A few observations that make me chuckle:
- Medical students begin all of their questions with “What exactly…” What exactly does the gluteus maximus do? Why exactly do mitochondria stain darker? What exactly do we have to know about the brachial plexus in order to pass the test?
- The one class that I don’t have to take that they do have to take is a “personality” class where they learn that wearing too much perfume is unprofessional. Instead of that class, I take a research ethics class where we learn that feeding radioactive oatmeal to children is wrong.
- “Do non-medical doctors get to be called ‘doctor’ when I e-mail them to ask for help?”
- The look of astonishment on their faces when I know what I’m talking about or am able to teach them something that they didn’t know, Like bony landmarks, or who John Lennon was.
- “I thought most grad students were medical school drop-outs.”
- How impatient they get when someone asks a question and I say, “Well let’s think this through…”
- “It’s cute that you are actually interested in this.”
- When I go back to normal anthropology school, fellow students say, “I bet they don’t even know what an australopithecine is!”
- “I’m so bad at coming up with research ideas. Maybe I should just go to medical school and do rote memorization for the rest of my life.”
It’s funny to observe what the different groups of students find important and desirable and “smart.” For medical students, the fact that I study “monkey bones” makes me a much less serious student than they perceive themselves to be. Even though I keep up with them when we do drills or study together, they assume I’m not as smart because if I were, I’d be in medical school. They require answers and need to know how to do things, not why we do things, or how we learned to do things, or that there may be two or three ways to do things that give equally good results. They are very goal-oriented, and have no time for things that have nothing to do with achieving that goal.
On the other hand, the graduate students have an attitude that they are more intellectually curious and therefore smarter than kids who went to medical school. They seem a lot more comfortable with uncertainty, to the point where they probably don’t study as hard as they could. They have tunnel vision in that they sometimes get so focused on what they are interested in that they can’t grasp that other people might be interested in other things. And that tunnel vision has the unfortunate property of having no end in sight. You can never know EVERYTHING about what you are trying to learn about, so goals are harder to define and “finished” is almost impossible.
I’m sure both groups will mature into wonderfully smart and perceptive doctors (medical or otherwise), but it’s funny how distinctive the two personality types seem to be at this early point in their careers. I wonder if it’s learned through four years of undergrad, or if the two careers just naturally attract two different personality types. One piece of advice that was passed down to me, and that I think applies to both groups, is this: You are both not as smart as you think you are, and smarter than you think you are.