As if the all the responsibilities and expectations associated with becoming an intern weren’t enough, I’m also considering what it means to change from admiring someone, to becoming/being that person. I know not all medical students are this overawed, but I have always been fairly reverential of my interns and residents. I think there were three, in the whole last two years, that I didn’t respect, and many that I truly admired.

When I was little my family used to go to a week-long conference, and the children would go to a children’s version. There would be “teams” of 10-12 kids, of varying ages, with a team leader and assistant: teenagers who had had some training, and had chosen to spend the week preparing for and teaching a handful of not-always-cooperative children. As far back as I can remember, I adored those young people. I remember one young lady in particular. She was perfect. She was always smiling – such a pretty smile – happy to see us when we got there every evening; always prepared, with fun activities to do, or stories to listen to; her hair was gorgeous, and she did it in an intricate crown braid. She was always patient, never got upset (and I know now that I gave her plenty of provocation). She loved God, and it showed in everything she did. Ever since I realized that when I got older I could be a team leader too, I dreamed of being just like her.

And then one year, that was it: I was old enough, I could be a teacher now. The first year I was almost too shy to say hi to the children when they showed up. I let the team leader do everything; I sat in the corner, getting the paper crafts ready, and handing the glue around when called for. Eventually, I became a team leader; I learned to tell the stories, make up games, keep the children interested and enthusiastic, pray with them. In my own mind, I never equalled my heroine. But somehow I did become more like her than I had ever thought possible.

When I think about the difference between being a medical student and an intern, there are two interns I remember particularly. There were two times in my medical school career where I made a serious mistake: the patients didn’t get really hurt, but that was more by good luck than by intelligence or forethought on my part. Both times, the interns got blamed for it, because they had been supervising me at the time. By any normal standard of judgment, it was my fault, and I deserved to be seriously chewed out, if not worse. Instead, the attendings mostly scolded the interns (and me just a little). Privately, I tried to apologize to the interns for getting them in such trouble. And they told me, “I am the doctor. Whatever happens to my patient is my responsibility. Whether the nurses missed something, or you messed something up, in the end I am responsible for whatever happens.” And they were serious; I never felt that they held those incidents against me. That level of personal responsibility and accountability was breathtaking at the time – and still is. I expect my medical students are going to be serious nuisances, and the odds are that they will get me in trouble. But that’s my problem, not theirs; I am the doctor, and I am responsible for my patients and my students – and my patients’ nurses, too.