Undoubtedly, the holidays are a special time of year for most students. The semester is finally over and you can now spend time with friends and family while eating real, home-cooked food. Additionally, the temperature finally drops to an acceptable degree of cold so you can wear all those winter clothes you’ve so woefully neglected. I, like many of my generation, also associate the holidays with Harry Potter. Maybe it’s self-imposed behavioral conditioning from years of watching the annual ABC Family movie marathons, or having time over winter breaks to re-read the series, but it’s not the holidays without my favorite trio, pretending my hot chocolate is actually Butterbeer, and secretly hoping one of the presents wrapped under the tree is an Invisibility Cloak (a girl can hope, right?).
Following a conversation inspired by the highly anticipated release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was shocked to learn that some of my classmates haven’t read the Harry Potter series…or even seen the movies!!! I spent a respectable amount of time convincing them they were missing out and walking the fine line between guilt-tripping and persuading my friends that they should catch up. Naturally, this led me to think a lot about Harry Potter recently, and I couldn’t help come to the glorious realization that going to medical school is kind of like going to Hogwarts.
I know this sentiment may seem crazy, but bear with me. I came up with a list of things that were very analogous experiences between the two worlds. This would become an exercise that
- Helped motivate me to finish an exam cycle strong and
- Gave me an excuse to think more about Harry Potter
- Come up with a way to help people who aren’t in the medical field try to understand what it’s like.
1. The letter
With the exception of Harry and Muggleborn kids, most* children in the Harry Potter universe probably anxiously awaited their acceptance letters to The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. ‘Anxiously awaiting’ pretty much sums up how I felt for a good chunk of my senior year while waiting for interviews, and again for acceptances. There are few feelings like that mix of joy/relief/excitement/happiness you experience when a medical school says they want to interview you, or better, they want you to attend their school. Even better, the feeling when you got a positive response back from a “reach school” would probably be akin to what Harry and Muggleborn children probably felt; shocked and confused because you didn’t think it would happen, but happy and excited because it did.
*for the sake of accuracy: families could homeschool their children or choose to send them to other schools if they didn’t want their kids to go to Hogwarts (why they wouldn’t, I can’t understand)
2. School Supply Shopping
Medical students might not need a cauldron (pewter, standard size 2) or a pointed black hat, but we do need things that seem just as foreign. Instead of getting fitted for black robes at Madam Malkin’s, we order white coats and hope we correctly understood those weird sizing charts on the form. Instead of finding the perfect wand at Olivander’s, we decide which color and model stethoscope we want to have slung around our necks or stuffed into the pockets of our white coats. Then comes the other random stuff: What even is a sphygmomanometer? Does anyone actually carry around an ophthalmoscope? Not to mention the endless list of “required” (more like recommended) textbooks. Swap your Standard Book of Spells, Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration, and A History of Magic for Pathoma, First Aid, and Bates’ Guide to Physical Exam. Though we don’t have Diagon Alley, we do have Amazon and the wisdom older students dish out on our Facebook group.
Many schools have systems in place that divide students into small groups to help them bond and meet upperclassmen and faculty. At UTMB, all incoming students are randomly sorted into 8 Osler Societies, each named after a pioneering physician. Much like the Hogwarts houses, these societies help foster camaraderie and forge bonds over the next 4 years. During the first semester, all small groups for classes are composed of students from the same society. In addition, older students serve as Society Directors (like prefects) and help plan society dinners, service events, educational lunch meetings, and socials. Much like the 4 Hogwarts Houses, many of the societies also have their own competitions and traditions. Swap Quidditch for Intramurals and the Yule Ball for The Osler Gala.
Some of these classes have names that are specific to UTMB, but all medical students are pretty much learning the same thing. The mitochondria is ALWAYS the powerhouse of the cell.
- Pharmacology= Potions Class
- You learn the basics of how medications function, and then dive into the various classes of drugs, and specifically start learning the mechanism of action/elimination, side effects, contraindications, etc. about basically every drug ever.
- Practice of Medicine (POM)= Transfiguration
- Instead of learning how to transform into animals, we learn how to transition into professional, ethical, and responsible physicians! We discuss issues in society and medicine, learn about interacting with patients in different situations, practice taking histories and performing physicals, and develop our professional morals and values. It’s a difficult process, but definitely necessary.
- PHD (Pathology, Immunology, Microbiology)= Defense Against the Dark Arts
- When we focus on these subjects, we learn how the immune system works normally, how the major categories of things that invade and wreak havoc on the body (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi) function, and how the body fights back. Throw in a little bit of pharmacology review, and if that’s not DADA, nothing is.
- Histology=Magic in general
- One of my classmates is a firm believer that all pathologists and histologists are magicians, because they seem to just magically find structures you would have spent minutes looking for (and manage to still not see even when pointed out to you). So, in her honor, I’ve included this, because to some degree, she’s right: Histology is magical.
- 3rd and 4th year clinical rotations= Apparition
- Hogwarts students must be 17 to learn Apparition, so it’s for the big kids. Similarly, only students in the last two years of medical school complete rotations in the hospital. 3rd and 4th years basically disappear from campus and sometimes, even the city. They’re off at other hospitals or in different cities doing rotations, but then somehow they magically reappear in the library* to study for their shelf exam! Also, I’m sure all 3rd and 4th years wish they could apparate because navigating through the new and old hospitals to answer pager calls has to be difficult.
*I would like to mention that the UTMB Library is called the Moody Medical Library. Though named after philanthropist Mary Moody Northern, I sometimes like to believe there’s a long-lost, distant relation to the one and only Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody.
5. STEP 1 and STEP 2= O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s
Whether you study diligently like Hermione or cram like Ron, you still have to take STEP 1 (after 2nd year) and STEP 2 (during 4th year) in order to become a doctor. They’re long, grueling, ~8 hour exams testing you over everything you were supposed to learn over your first two (STEP 1) and last two (STEP 2) years of medical school. Think of the MCAT on steroids, but multiplied by a 100 and you kinda get the idea.
[If you know any second year medical students, now would be the time to catch up with them, because soon they’ll all be hiding away at the library.]
The list of analogies goes on, but suffice to say, in many ways, going to medical school is a lot like going to Hogwarts. It’s something so unique and special that unless they’re living it, most of the people in your life can’t quite understand it. Honestly, you can’t always understand it either. You’re completely immersed in a new world, isolated in your own little bubble of school, productive schedules, and trying to master the minutia of the human body. Even when you’re taking time off to relax with friends, medicine is always there. You could be at trivia night with your friends and in between rounds, you could find yourself leaning over to ask them when it would be normal to hear an S3 heart sound (true story).
As difficult as medical school is though, it’s hard not to use the word magical to describe it. What we get to do is magical. What we get to learn, and the ways we learn it, are really so magical. That moment a difficult concept or even a simple factoid finally, actually makes sense is magical. Seeing your first real patient in clinic and coming up with a reasonable assessment and treatment plan is magical. Finding your own Rons and Hermiones, your Ginnys, Lunas and Nevilles is magical. Realizing that you can push your mind and body to new heights and learn more information than you ever thought possible is magical. Bonding with your classmates as you go through this shared experience, shaping the future, and each other, is magical.
Call me a nerd (or call me a wizard), but I think medical school is magical.