Future Docs 7: Sarah and Peter Reach a Milestone

Feb 27, 2013

Second-year medical student Sarah Rapoport takes the microphone.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

During the past school year, Rhode Island Public Radio has been following two Brown University medical students to see how medical training is evolving with changes in health care. We’re checking in now with Future Docs Sarah Rapoport and Peter Kaminski, who are about to leave the classroom for the exam room – in more ways than one.

There’s almost no break for Brown University medical students between their second and third years. But one major milestone marks the transition: “boards.” It’s the first step in a series of exams all medical students take to get their license to practice medicine professionally. Second year Brown student Sarah Rapoport takes it in April.  The thought is almost all-consuming.

“We’ve never taken a licensing exam before, so it certainly feels, it’s, you know, unknown territory to us. So it’s especially a big deal to us as second years.”

Passing the test is critical for becoming a doctor. Doing well on it could determine which residency program you get into. That’s why Rapoport is trying to see the test as an opportunity.

“The idea of being able to open doors for myself, that is something that I want to do. So for that, I would study hard and do the best I can.”

Sarah interviews Peter in Brown's medical school auditorium.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

So what’s on it? Rapoport and fellow second year student Peter Kaminski exchange glances.

“Everything we’ve been learning thus far. And maybe things we didn’t learn!”

Kaminski takes the exam a bit later this year. To prepare, he plans to memorize the entire inch-thick study guide. Rapoport says she’ll clear the decks for six weeks, leave her phone at home, skip birthday parties and nights out.

“I checked out a carrel in one of the libraries on campus. And I’m going to use that as my study spot. And the library opens at eight. And I’ll be there.”

This level of intensity is nothing new to Rapoport or Kaminski. They’re used to keeping pace with a demanding schedule of studying and exams. But they say they’re expecting a new pace, a new kind of demanding in their third year. That’s when they leave the classrooms behind to spend all of their time in the hospital, learning on teams led by more experienced residents and attending physicians. They’ll rotate through a series of specialty areas, spending several weeks in each. And they’ve just gotten their schedules.

Second-year medical student Peter Kaminski in the medical school auditorium.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

“Surgery is my first rotation, which I was not initially looking for. But I will enjoy jumping into the oven with that simply because it’s known for its high intensity and patients with very urgent needs that have to be addressed quickly and in an atmosphere where mistakes are not something that should ever occur.”

“OBGYN, obstetrics and gynecology. And then I have pediatrics. And then I have medicine….”

Despite the intensity, Kaminski and Rapoport have managed to tuck away the kinds of experiences that can keep them going, that remind them all the hard work is worth it. Like the time Kaminski was shadowing a mentor in the emergency room when a man came in having what looked like a stroke. He was stable at first. But half an hour later his condition was deteriorating. So doctors had to race the clock and conduct test after test to figure out why. Kaminski says the family seemed confused, traumatized. But no one had time to explain.

“And it was one of those situations where I realized, I’m a medical student, I can’t necessarily directly address what this patient is going through or prescribe a medical plan that’s going to help them. But I do have a knowledge basis, I do know what’s going on, and I can essentially act as an interpreter for what the staff is doing to this patient and to their family.”

That moment reaffirmed his love of medicine, especially the delicate, human touch it can require. He’s sure he’s on the right path. But friend and colleague Sarah Rapoport takes the microphone. She wants to know something many medical students must wonder at three in the morning: ‘what if?’

“If you had to do anything in the world other than medicine what would you choose? And why?”

“Do I have to be paid for this?”

“Dream situation here. We’re talking dream. We’re talking ideal.”

Peter Kaminski's well-worn study guide for the board exam.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

“I would probably have a nice little schooner that I could just sail from port to port and just talk with different people, learn from different cultures, eat lots of interesting foods.”

In fact, Peter has managed to get some sailing in during medical school. And if he follows one passion of his—global health—he may just make it to new ports, to learn from different cultures.

And what about Sarah?

“So, if you could do anything other than medicine, what would you do with your life?”

“I’ve always wanted to be an Olympic athlete. Either a runner or a swimmer or an Olympic figure skater.”

In a way, she’s pursuing that dream already – she’s training for a marathon. And it kind of fits. For her, medical school is a lot like training for the Olympics. The first big event is this board exam. Odds are excellent that she and Kaminski will be ready by game day.