Friday, October 08, 1999

Med student grinds away toward 'someday'




BY JOHN JOHNSTON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Many of his college friends are out of school now. They have their business and finance degrees and have taken jobs in the corporate world. A 21-year-old female friend will make $60,000 this year.

[dart]
Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.
        Stuart Shindel tries to imagine it: 60 grand at age 21. “It's a hell of a concept,” he says.

        Reality is much different for this 24-year-old, third-year medical student at the University of Cincinnati. His life is a series of long days, beepers paging him in the night, and more information than his mind can process. By the time he graduates, he figures he'll be $110,000 in debt.

        “You don't do this for the money,” he says, sitting in a coffee shop at University Hospital. “Anybody who does this for the money is crazy.”

        He has an open, friendly face. He's in blue scrubs. An Orthodox Jew, he also wears a yarmulke on his head.

        Someday, he'll be the first member of his family to become a doctor. Someday.

        His first year of med school shocked him. The sheer volume of the material. The stacks and stacks of paper. The incredible pace at which information is introduced.

        He believed Yeshiva University in New York, where he earned a degree in history, had prepared him well. He typically attended class until 8 or 9 at night. But med school was “really a lot more work than I ever imagined.”

        He felt fortunate to be single and unattached, because he certainly had no time for a family or a girlfriend.

        Then came med school, year two.

        “If first year you thought there was a lot of information, you're wrong. Second year, I was cursing life for a while. They liken it to standing in front of an open fire hydrant. That's the amount of information.”

        The challenge: How much can you absorb?

        First year had focused on the healthy body; second year dealt with myriad maladies. “It's a ton of sick,” he says. Immersed in symptoms and abnormalities and diseases, some students bow to hypochondria.

        “I think I diagnosed myself with five tumors last year,” Stuart says, smiling. “It was like, "I think I have stomach cancer.' My friend said, "Shut up, you don't have stomach cancer.'”

        He has a chuckle that sounds a little like a hiccup. Stuart Shindel doesn't have stomach cancer, but he has a healthy sense of humor.

        Third year, and its clinical rotations, began in July. First was internal medicine. Then pediatrics. Still to come: obstetrics/gynecology, surgery, psychiatry, family medicine and radiology.

        These days, the information that gushed like water from a fire hydrant is making more sense, now that he can apply it to real patients.

        Stuart isn't sure yet, but he thinks he'd like to be an emergency room doctor. He's had a glimpse of what it's like.

        Last summer he was in an ER when a young woman — someone his age — was brought in. She had been struck by a car while riding a bike, and there was little doctors could do for her.

        When the young woman's roommate arrived, Stuart took her to the intensive care unit so she could say goodbye.

        “That was not a good day,” he says.

        One of his best days came last month, during his pediatric rotation, when he was assigned to newborns at University Hospital. His first day on call, he got only two hours' sleep. He was busy watching 11 births in 24 hours.

        Giddy when his shift ended, he called home to Columbus.

        “Mom, there are babies everywhere,” he said, “and they're so cute!”

        When Elaine Shindel, a school office worker, heard the excitement in her son's voice, it made her feel good.

        She and her husband, Harold, a hydrologist, were supportive of Stuart's decision to become a doctor, although they were also a bit surprised by it. In hindsight, Mrs. Shindel says, they probably shouldn't have been.

        As an Orthodox Jew, Stuart received religious training that strongly emphasized caring for others. Indeed, when he was a boy, he was mentored in Judaic studies by a medical student who became a close friend.

        Stuart's mother also recalls an accident that occurred outside their home a year before Stuart entered medical school. A neighbor's 9-year-old was injured. Stuart rushed to help, applied first aid, then went to the hospital to help soothe him.

        Mrs. Shindel knows her son faces a grueling workload. But the sound in his voice after those babies were born told her all she needs to know.

        “He seems to be thriving. He's very, very happy.”

        He might change his mind about emergency medicine. But not about being a doctor. Not now.

        “I couldn't imagine doing anything else,” he says.

        He can look forward to more long days in hospital wards, and more sleepless nights. And gradually, more responsibility.

        “It was odd the first time somebody called me "Doc,'” he says. “You try to make clear to patients that you're not the doctor.”

        Not yet. But someday.

       



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