Medical school and residency are filled with memorable experiences. Some of these are encouraging and even awe-inspiring:
A patient thanking you for helping him.
A glowing review or recommendation from an attending.
Holding a beating human heart during surgery.
Others are negative moments. These can be frustrating, upsetting, or awkward. I’d like to share three of my most embarrassing stories from medical school and residency.
1. My rotation preceptor called my mom
I was doing my family medicine rotation as a third-year medical student. The clinic was at a satellite location about 3 hours away from my medical school’s main campus. There were three of us rotating through internal medicine together at this location, each with a different preceptor. One of the preceptors was scheduled to do a didactic session with us toward the end of the day. He was that awesome type of attending who treats students really well. He kindly offered to take us to a local eatery so we could learn about heart arrhythmias over flatbread and a couple of beers.
The last patient of the day that I saw with my preceptor was a complex one. I had to leave for my didactic session / happy hour while we were awaiting a call back about the patient from a consulting specialist. My preceptor wanted to make sure I was updated on the case as soon as possible, so “offered” to give me a call once he heard from the consultant and had decided on a treatment plan for the patient. He pulled out a sticky note and asked for my number.
In a moment of hurry and distraction as I tried to get out the door to be on time for my group session, I gave him the first phone number that popped into my head: the landline number from the house I grew up in, where my parents still resided.
An hour or so later, I received a call on my cell. It was my preceptor, who had just gotten off the phone with my mother. He said he enjoyed chatting with my mom and told her that I was doing a commendable job on my rotation.
2. I went to the wrong conference and didn’t realize it until halfway through breakfast
I was attending my medical specialty society’s annual national conference as a PGY-2. This was a big opportunity to meet people in the field. I hoped that my networking efforts might come in handy the following year when I started looking for a full-time job.
The conference began with a breakfast just before the keynote address was scheduled. I walked through the conference center lobby and then into the first ballroom that I saw with breakfast being served.
As I walked in, I notice that each large, round table was marked with a topic. I recall seeing “Vaccines” and “Oral Health.” I figured these were roundtable discussion topics. They certainly were fitting with the field of preventive medicine. There were also prominent GlaxoSmithKline logos on each of the signs. Ah, GSK is sponsoring breakfast, I thought. How nice of them.
I piled a plate with food and sat down with a handful of people at the “Vaccines” table.
My tablemates began introducing themselves to me. They seemed somewhat surprised to have never met me before, which struck me as odd. Then one of them asked what product I was with.
What product am I with?
I didn’t even understand the question. I said I was a second-year resident so was still exploring my options. Again, they seemed surprised.
Then I realized that they all worked in sales for GSK. This was the GSK sales team conference. It was not the conference I was supposed to be at. I briefly explained my error, apologized for interrupting and for eating their breakfast, and thanked them for being so welcoming.
Looking red as a beet, I walked further down the conference center hallway to the breakfast that I was actually supposed to be at.
3. I accidently exposed myself to two male colleagues
As a PGY-3 in preventive medicine, I was completing a rotation in environmental and occupational health. The organization’s on-site fitness center was hosting a wellness initiative for their employees and I was invited to join in. It involved tracking simple health-related metrics over time, such as weight, heart rate, and body fat percentage.
I stopped by the fitness center one morning to get my baseline metrics taken. The body fat percentage portion involved standing on a scale for bioelectrical impedance analysis. I was wearing a skirt with tights, and the fitness instructor thought that the measurement would probably work through my tights. Unfortunately, it didn’t. He told me to just take my tights off and try again.
So, feeling rushed to get out of there and flustered because I was about to learn my body fat percentage, I failed to fully consider the next action I was about to make.
Another participant in the wellness programs was waiting to get his body fat measures, so I took a few steps away from the scale to let him get started. Then, standing in the corner of the room as discreetly as possible, I proceeded to shimmy my tights off from under my skirt.
I didn’t realize that the waist of my skirt was large enough to slip right down over my hips if sufficient force was applied. As I pulled on the legs of my tights, my skirt came right down with them.
I must has gasped loudly, as the fitness instructor and the other employee who was now checking his body fat percentage turned toward me simultaneously. There I was, flashing them.
“We’ve got a show going on in here!” one of them exclaimed (trying to make light of the situation), as I scrambled to pull my skirt up.
I tried to avoid eye contact with both of these men for the remainder of my rotation.
Everything turned out ok
Enough time has elapsed that I can think about these moments with humor instead of humiliation. I can sigh instead of cringe when I’m reminded of them. I’m sharing in hopes that readers will be amused, but also that current students and trainees will realize that they can survive (and perhaps even appreciate) a few embarrassing moments as a student or resident. We all have moments.
Do you have any embarrassing stories from medical school and residency? Share one in the comments below!