I vividly remember sitting through new student orientation around this time five years ago. I remember being nervous. Very nervous. And to be fair, there was a lot to be nervous about: making new friends, living in the city, establishing professional contacts, not to mention all of the work it was going to take to make it through the program.
I certainly wasn’t thinking I would end up joining the faculty.
But after 10 academic quarters (and 10 finals weeks), lots of patients at the Illinois Eye Institute, a few national board exams, and more patients on external rotations in Rhode Island, Colorado and China, I suddenly found myself wearing a gown with a green hood inside Rockefeller Chapel at my commencement ceremony.
Then came a residency program back at ICO, including plenty more IEI patients, three Grand Rounds presentations, an AAO case report and 10 weeks of Urgent Care on-call duty with, you guessed it, more patients.
And now, I finally have it: the coveted gray lab coat.
When you take on a new role in the same community, it’s tough to predict how things will change. The gray definitely hides the fluorescein stains better, and I’m no longer quite so nervous, but in many ways my life is the same. I’m still on a first-name basis with the cafeteria staff, I still look forward to my clinic shifts, and I’m still constantly surrounded by people way smarter than I am. I still don’t drive a flashy car or frequent red carpet events. I still think “molluscum contagiosum” sounds a lot more like a wizard’s spell than an eyelid disease.
It turns out the changes are pretty subtle. There are some things I appreciate more since I’ve been on the other side. Like how long it takes to prepare a two-hour lecture, knowing that someone will undoubtedly fall asleep during it. And how rare it is to get reliable results on a visual field. Seriously guys, it’s really rare. I’ve also developed new perspective of efficiency–60 minutes sure feels a lot longer now, sitting in the conference room waiting for the students to come present their cases, than it did as a third year trying hard to work up a patient.
I guess the most refreshing thing I’ve realized is that, no matter what color my lab coat, ICO is still ICO. The things I love most about our two-square blocks in Bronzeville–the caliber of people, the sense of community, the common goal to provide excellent eye care–those are all unchanged. It’s funny to think back on how nervous I was when I first got here, because now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.