During the week of orientation, I definitely learned a lot about the school of medicine, its faculty, and the services that will be available to me if I ever need them, whether I go crazy or somehow forget how to study (psychiatric counseling, tutoring, etc…). I have to admit, a lot of this week has been akin to high school, where students’ hands are held through the day, herded from one activity or lecture onto another. If one has to use the restroom, signing a sheet is necessary in order to know if someone got lost in the process of such a complicated task. Naturally, this aspect of the week has not appealed to me, nor has it to any of the MSTP; call us a bunch of “free thinkers,” but we don’t like being told what to do. At the same time, it has been a learning experience figuring out what aspects of individuality and independence to keep, and which aspects to forgo for the sake of professionalism. You will learn more about that when you get here.
Anyway, the highlights of the week certainly compensated for the “infantilization” of medical school. My favorite aspect was simply getting to know the incoming medical students, who were nearly as diverse as my fellow MSTPeers. This pleasantly contrasted my expectations, since UAB is a state school and thus is supposed to primarily recruit residents of Alabama. However, many students attended undergrad out of state, and others were internationals whose parents had recently moved into the state. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find more than a bunch of redneck Alabamians for classmates (no offense to rednecks, but…).
The next highlight of orientation for me was our service activity, which was to partner with the Exceptional Foundation in Homewood, AL. Our job was to basically have fun with the mentally-disabled people and organize a carnival for them. So, I was partnered with an 18-year-old guy with Downs Syndrome. At first, he was very quiet and hardly made eye contact with me. We walked around the carnival and he seemed largely disinterested in the games, despite my best efforts to engage him. Additionally, he had a significant speech impediment that made sustaining a conversation difficult for me. However, in time he started to open up to me and, although speaking was difficult, we would make hand gestures and we could play some games (and dance to the western music, since the carnival was western themed). By the end of the carnival, it was hard leaving. This experience has changed the way I think about mental disabilities; in many ways, my mindset and joy is considerably disabled compared to some of these individuals.
Lastly, I cannot ignore the enjoyment I had spending more time with the other first-year MSTP students. Because we spent a lot of time acclimating to Birmingham over the summer, we already had ourselves a tight-knit group of friends. One piece of advice for the next year: make dinner (or pub night) a weekly habit! Getting close with the other first-year MSTP students has been perhaps the deciding factor in my enjoyment of this first week. The nice thing about finding the MD/PhD program that fits your style is knowing that your classmates will, in many ways, fit you too.