I'm still feeling that love for the start of the academic year, so let's talk about buying equipment for the fine art of doctoring. Med school tuition is already pretty expensive, but you can easily spend thousands of dollars on textbooks, study guides, equipment, and exam fees. At the start of med school, I was given a list of equipment to *consider* buying. This included stethoscopes, reflex hammers, tuning forks, ophthalmoscopes, and otoscopes. For all of these equipment categories, there are low, medium, and high-end models as well.
So what's an anxious-but-excited first-year to do? Buy it all so you don't get caught without an otoscope during a physical examination class? Buy a Cardiology version digital stethoscope so you can identify the slightest variations in heart murmurs, thus potentially securing a cardiology fellowship at your home program when you impress the Chairman with your physical exam skills?
Here at GT, we think the best approach is to minimize your expenses without hamstringing yourself. Here are a few questions to ask when considering a piece of equipment:
1) How likely am I to lose it? Most docs I know lost at least 2 stethoscopes during med school. I think I lost my first one during my first semester.
2) How likely am I to use it? Modern examination rooms tend to be equipped with otoscopes and ophthalmoscopes that are of higher quality than the portable, $200+ models you can buy.
3) Will someone give it to me for free? While the rules on pharma-labeled gifts are rapidly changing, I was given a couple of truly awesome, pharma-branded, combination reflex hammers on my neurology rotation. (Incidentally, that was the only period when the side of my stethoscope didn't suffice as a reflex hammer.) Alternatively, if you know a fourth year student who might have a tuning fork hidden away somewhere under a pile of notes, that's also pretty awesome. (Another tip: calipers for 2-point discrimination? A paperclip and a ruler will suffice.)
4) Do I really want (read: need) the rhinestone-encrusted, mp3 playing, Net-linked version? Don't buy the flimsy-looking stuff that'll break if you bend it wrong, but also remember that you will be a novice to medicine for a long, long time. You also don't know what field you'll specialize in, so until your heart is truly set on cardiology, or ENT, or ophthalmology, maybe hold off on that $200+ piece of gear. Also, see question #1 above.
So there you have it, a nice handy guide to getting geared up. If this advice seemed ridiculously basic to you, be proud of yourself and your family for raising you well. Not all of us are so lucky. ;-)
Until next time,
Frank Lau, MD
Founder & Chief Medical Officer, Gunner Training
Resident, Harvard Combined Plastic Surgery Training Program
Clinical Research Fellow, Massachusetts General Hospital