These days I’m on a 2-week ophthalmology elective, which has shown me that there is some truth to the saying that the eyes are a window into the ‘soul,’ meaning in this context that the health of the eyes is often reflective of the health of the rest of the body. Apart from the potentially obvious conditions that can affect the eyes, such as hypertension and diabetes, there are also other more subtle factors that one has to keep in mind when assessing problems of the eye. Ophthalmologists have to have an understanding of the entire body. Even things like an upset stomach, muscle aches, sleep changes, and back pain are important symptoms to ask about when a patient presents with an eye concern. These symptoms might be helpful clues pointing toward the diagnosis, or they might be completely unrelated, and it’s important to have a thorough knowledge base by which to know the right questions to ask and tests to order. It’s fascinating to me that an ophthalmologic “work up” (or investigation of disease) can be so far-reaching.
On that note, I recently took USMLE Step 1 and sometimes wondered while studying why in the world certain things were important to know. But it all does matter. When your car has a problem, you don’t typically go to someone who only fixes headlights, or steering wheels, or dashboards. In medicine, it kind of is set up that way on the surface, but I think it’s important for students to be aware of the fact that we have to be first and foremost physicians for the whole body. Each part contributes to health, and each part can be affected by disease. I like to think of this approach or attitude as that of the aforementioned ‘body’ shop–pun intended–in which, even by a specialist, the patient is seen as a whole.
Easier said than done, of course, and I anticipate that over time my knowledge of medicine outside of my day-to-day practice will undergo some attrition (hopefully to make room for deeper knowledge of the diseases and treatments that I do see every day). But this rotation in ophthalmology has served as a gentle reminder to me at an early point in my training to do my best to really take it all in while in medical school. These 2 years of clinical clerkships are an incredible opportunity to create a broad foundation of understanding by which to serve my future patients as comprehensively as I can, and I’m excited to be feeling this way. Sometimes, of course, aspects of medical school can be a drag. But when there are ‘aha’ moments like this, when my motivation reawakens after a lull, I feel like I see the world through a new pair of lenses.