Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11/01 and med school

My first exam of med school (biochemistry) was scheduled for 9/12/01. For obvious reasons, it got rescheduled. Sadly, this resulted in a major rift in my class that lasted for years.

The test was supposed to be rescheduled for the next week, but people in the class protested this. Because they were still sad. They wanted to wait two weeks, because apparently, it takes two whole weeks to get over a horrible tragedy. One week just isn't enough.

Let me just say that 9/11 affected me very personally. I'm from NYC and a friend of mine from high school died in the WTC. I can't think of that day without tearing up. So I entirely sympathize with feeling unable to take a test when this was going on. Yet...

It was ONE test. Out of dozens we'd be taking that year. I mean, so you can't concentrate that great. Is that really the end of the world? The doctors helping people injured in 9/11 were emotional and probably had a hard time concentrating, but they still did their jobs. I felt it was a little ridiculous to keep postponing this exam, especially since we had several other exams on the horizon.

I still remember we had this huge meeting with our entire class where we fought over when this exam would be. One guy was saying that he wanted to postpone the test till the week after Rosh Hashanah, because when he went to synagogue, he might hear about someone who died and not be able to concentrate. Again, this was ONE exam that wasn't even worth that much. There were four exams in biochem. I mean, who cares if you don't get the absolute best score you can? Just take the damn test.

Of course, maybe I'm not thinking like a future dermatologist.

I know it's cynical on my part, but I honestly believed that the requests to postpone the exam were just excuses to get more study time. And this cynical theory was completely supported a year later, when the EXACT same reaction occurred when a test was postponed due to a snowstorm.


  1. Maybe some people take longer to get over stuff and maybe you get over stuff faster.

    1. So people who get over things fast take one week to get over the most horrible tragedy in the history of the city, and people who take longer to get over stuff take two weeks? Please.

      Look at it this way: if something truly horrible happened to you, like your parent or child or spouse died suddenly, would you really give two shits whether your midterm (worth less than 1/4 of your grade) was scheduled on Friday or Monday? The midterm would lose all importance. The fact that this horrible thing happened and we were arguing over a TEST just offended my sensibilities.

      We were future doctors. We should have learned to perform in the face of tragedy. Did the doctors in the ER treating the people injured in 9/11 say, "Sorry, I'm too sad. Come back in a week."?

      It's not about how long it took me to "get over it." I'm still not over it. But it was a freaking unimportant TEST. If there's any time to realize how little a test means, it's during a time like that.

  2. How do they still (despite personality questions is on MCATs) get so many people in med school without sympathy/empathy qualities? In the face of the tragedy they sheepishly worry about their performance so they can place in residency of their first choice in lucrative field. I was training in DC on that day -numerous medical professional volunteers (who were off shift) showed up in local ER's

  3. Since when is personality tested on the MCAT? We were given a personality test during orientation week, but it seemed a bit out of place. Besides, a Meyers Briggs won't tell you squat about someone's ambition, motives, or goals.

    By the way, Fizzy, after following your blog for about a year now, I only JUST understood your username, thanks to the email address on the sidebar. Clever!

    1. Since very recent. They are talking about including it on MCATs for the past 1-2 years accorind to what I read. no, these tests will not truly identify sincere and dignified individuals 100%, but this is what med school admissions are looking for. Altruism.

  4. I live close to NYC and also lost a friend at WTC. I am also in a profession where it seems like every colleague I knew either lost someone they knew at WTC or spent that first awful day scrambling around trying to account for everyone they knew. Everyone, and I mean everyone, shut down and stopped knowing how to put one foot in front of the other for weeks afterwards, and I remember one common discussion point was that everyone felt guilty each time they tried to move on and have a normal day. Also, everyone was on pins and needles wondering if there would be another attack, and if so, where it might happen, and if it would be of the same magnitude, so it was very hard for anyone to concentrate.
    Perhaps some of your classmates were using it as an excuse for more time to study, but I do think others may have just been processing the tragedy in their own way and at their own pace.
    To your point about doctors needing to work in the face of tragedy, I recall when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, her PCP called her, hysterically crying about it. I mean, she was totally inconsolable (and my mother wasn't even that close with her). She then followed it up with a really weepy letter telling my mom how sorry she was about the diagnosis. I remember being completely thrown off by the doctor's reaction, and if I were one of her other patients that day, I wonder how I would have felt possibly seeing my PCP looking so upset when she came in the exam room. But again, I guess everyone just processes things their own way.

    1. Yes, it was an absolutely terrifying experience. I spent the day crying and trying to locate all my relatives (most of my family) by phone, but a lot of the phones were down. And like you mentioned, there was a fear of more attacks, etc. Was my concentration the best that it could be? Of course not.

      But one thing the WTC attacks did was make me realize how unimportant ONE TEST was. I didn't care if my grade suffered a few points because in the scheme of things, it really didn't matter. One test in the face of all those lives lost?? Plus we were ALL very affected and the class was graded on a curve.

      I think a lot of my cynicism developed later though, when I saw how the class tried to get other tests postponed for more trivial reasons. And it was always the SAME people.

      And incidentally, the guy who was complaining he needed more time due to Rosh Hashanah ended up junior AOA (the highest honors, usually bestowed on VERY competitive students). So it's not like he was worried about failing.

      I'm sorry to hear about your mother. And yes, the doctor probably did have to continue to see patients and perform after that. Think about physicians who go into battle, and have to treat their fallen colleagues. We deal with so many sad things, and we really must be able to work in the face of tragedy.

  5. Solution: Take the test when ever you want. There will be copies of it in the Dean's office. Pick one up, sit at the desk in the corner, and take the test when ever you feel ready, so long as it's done by the end of the year. Closed book of course. And leave your phone with secretary as collateral so you don't leave and copy the test for our peers (or use it to cheat). I doubt many would cheat taking the test in the lobby of Dean's office regardless, but that would help if it was a concern.