June 12, 2017

Alumnus essay: 'An entire life of emotions condensed into less than 12 hours'

Ethan Wasson had already logged countless clinical hours before he walked across the Fox Theatre stage in Detroit on June 6, when he and 270 of his Wayne State University School of Medicine Class of 2017 colleagues received their medical degrees. But there's one day in his first clinical rotation that stood out, so much so that he wrote an essay about it.

"This particular day had one intense event after the next, to the point where I gave myself a reminder to write it all down at the end of the day. Then I started editing it from then on. I put enough work into it that I wanted to share it with others," Dr. Wasson said.

"A Life in a Day," written for In-Training.org, highlights a 12-hour service from early in Dr. Wasson's third year of medical school, on a surgery rotation that started with an organ procurement from a middle-aged male who committed suicide and ended with the death of a patient who had been recovering from a multi-visceral transplant due to metastatic cancer.

"Over the span of my final two med school years working in hospitals throughout the Detroit area, I have encountered other memorable events, some I have written about. But I felt that this story I shared was a good representation of hospital life and its contrasts of positive and negative events, and how medical students try to navigate that world," he said. "It was memorable, both due to those events, but also because I was very new to the work environment within a busy tertiary care center serving the Detroit area. It was only about two months before this that I was sitting in classrooms, listening to lectures, taking exams, in the same format I had done for many years."

In-Training is a peer-edited online magazine for medical students founded in 2012 by medical students at Albany Medical College.

Dr. Wasson, who grew up in rural Cableskill, N.Y., 45 minutes west of Albany, will begin an Anesthesiology residency at Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wis., this summer. For him, the city of Detroit brought opportunity to learn medicine in a distinctive setting.

"From drug addiction and detox programs to gunshot wounds and transplants, to diabetes and heart disease that reach end-stage levels, I feel like I have seen how far disease can go, both to the terminal end and to complete recovery. I think the contrast that lies in those extremes of health has given me at least a sample of what's to come during my career," he said. "And I feel OK with that; not that people have to go through those problems, but okay with thinking of myself as their chaperone back to a better place. So I feel optimism, something that I can't ever lose if I'm to be successful."

It's also where he learned patience.

"Everyone's health is a story and it will be up to me to bring out the relevant parts of their story, by listening and respectfully directing them in a manner which most benefits their care. And to be patient with the ones who are not able to communicate effectively, if at all. It certainly will not be easy but will become more so with practice, though more tragic events that are an inevitable part of health care will never become easy," he said.