Medical school is a strange and frightening new world. On top of cramming more information than is physically possible into your brain on a daily basis, you have to learn a whole new language. Granted, a lot of it makes sense. In order to properly describe a patient, you have to be able to tell if they’re a cyanotic dyspneic neonate with stridor (aka – a blue, hyperventilating baby with noisy breaths in). Some of the language, however, isn’t even remotely related to being a medical practitioner. Now I also hear about the gunner getting pimped by the attending (translations to follow).
Let’s go back a few years. When I was in undergrad, I was used to being called a keener. I was often the one spending a little extra time studying, finishing up projects, or even doing some leisure reading on related topics out of pure interest. My friends teased me, yes. Heck, to be honest, I kind of enjoyed being called a keener. It meant I was keen to be there, that my tuition was not being wasted on a frivolous degree, that I had a passion for what I was studying.
Nowadays, this sort of behaviour is described as being a “gunner”, yet the implications are far from the mostly positive ones associated with being a keener. A gunner is someone that tries to impress the professors, someone that has a specialty in mind that they are aiming to get into, someone that will sabotage their peers (or their relationship with them) in order to look better to their superiors by comparison. A quick peek through the urban dictionary definition page will give you an idea of just how poorly these people are seen. I never thought being a keener in med school could be a bad thing, but apparently my enthusiasm for the content could be (and has been) misconstrued as an intimidation tactic to get ahead.
One day, not too long ago, a friend called me a gunner. Granted, I had recently scored 100% on an exam in medical school. I had maybe been teasing them for their soft-science club membership (in what I thought was good fun). Maybe I crossed a line. In any case, they called me a gunner and went on their way. This left me in a bit of a pickle.
Was he serious? Was he actually mad at me, or was I reading too much between the lines? Was I coming across as an overly competitive and aggressive person to those around me?
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly descend into an existential crisis. It just gave me pause to consider how things have changed. How maybe I have changed. It made me think about what my priorities were. Was I letting my drive to understand the content and excel at my trade get in the way of developing meaningful relationships with my peers and colleagues?
I can’t honestly say that I’ve found a clear answer yet. I can say that I’ve refocused myself. I’m still driven; I’m still passionate about understanding the complexity of disease and illness. I’m still getting pimped when we go into the wards, but I stress a little less about it (getting pimped meaning being asked very specific, detailed, nit-picky questions in stressful situations, and usually getting them wrong). Maybe I’m less competitive. The people in school with me are arguably some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and I would kick myself for letting my keener side keep me from cultivating what I hope are lasting relationships with them.
In any case, maybe I am a gunner. Maybe I’m just a keener. Maybe the two aren’t so different. All I can be is who I am, maybe I should just stop worrying about what other people think. But then again, maybe I’m in medicine because I care about what people think. Maybe these are just the ramblings of a burned out student that’s trying to avoid looking at her pulmonary notes again. I can’t say for sure, but it’s probably the last one.
Love from your favourite gunner.