North Carolina Medical Student – A Real Life Perspective

During his undergraduate career at UNC-Chapel Hill, Edward Jernigan contemplated pursuing graduate degrees in medicine, chemistry, physics and dentistry. Finding himself most drawn to the personal interaction and variety of practice options the field of medicine offers, he decided to enroll in the UNC School of Medicine, where he is now a third-year student. As he finishes his final year in medical school, Jernigan, though currently undecided as to his concentration, is considering specializing in surgery, internal medicine and family medicine. He answered some of our questions regarding his experience in medical school, his preparation for residency and his impending transition to the real-world of medicine.

1) What will the next 3 years look like for you?
The next year will be filled with decisions that will determine the direction of my clinical career as I apply to residency programs. Two years from now I will likely be in my intern year of residency, which promises to be one of the most exciting (and potentially terrifying) years of my life. Three years down the road, I hope to be into my residency with a fairly clear vision of where and how I want to practice medicine.

2.) What has been the most difficult adjustment to your postgraduate education in medicine?
The transition from undergraduate to the first two years of medical school was a pretty smooth one. The primary difference was that more work was required more frequently in medical school, but the nature of the work was very similar. In contrast, the adjustment to the third year of medical school, which is the first true clinical year of education, has been challenging. It has been difficult learning how to apply so much of the knowledge gained in the first two years into the clinical setting.

3) What has been your greatest challenge in medical school?
The most important challenge of medical school education is coming to appreciate that many of the subjects I am studying will be important not just for passing a test while sitting in a classroom, but for taking care of living and breathing people. This is a perspective that I have truly come to appreciate this year while spending a great deal of time with patients in the hospital and clinics.

4) What surprised you most during your time in medical school?
Realizing the devastating nature of some of the psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Much of this appreciation came with my third year psychiatry rotation, which provided me with the opportunity to witness first-hand the devastating effects of these diseases. Like many other diseases in medicine, there is a profound difference between reading about these diseases from a textbook and witnessing the pain and suffering they induce.

5) What are you most excited about as you enter a career in health care?
The field of medicine privileges those who are fortunate enough to enter it with the opportunity to make a profound difference in the quality of life of their patients. This can be extremely challenging, as no two patients are exactly the same, and there are many considerations that must be taken into account when developing personalized treatment plans. These opportunities and challenges are among the most exciting aspects of health care.

6) What are you most anxious about?
Learning how to work within the constraints of the system. Given the profound amount of information that is necessary to learn during medical school, there is little time for teaching the intricacies of the health care system. Learning how to navigate the complex health care system, especially now while it is undergoing such major changes, will be a continual learning process and will likely take years.

7) The health care system is certainly in transition. What would you like to see in a health care reform package?
Controlled costs and expanded coverage for selected medical conditions. I believe the easier of those two is expanding coverage. Controlling costs will be a much more difficult, but possibly even more important, issue to tackle.


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