Sami Nandyal, OMS-II
“‘But how are you really?’ This is the question that often aches in my chest, fighting to get through my lips and to the ears of my fellow medical students. And sometimes it is the question I am wishing to be asked. We spend countless hours of our life pouring information into our cortices, pushing and pushing forward, suppressing breakdowns, postponing the moment we let ourselves relax and unload ‘just until the exam,’ knowing very well that there is a mile-long line of exams following that one, waiting to be our next excuse to avoid wellness and vulnerability.
Before I make our lives sound like something to be pitied, let me open the window and let in some other, coinciding rays of reality into the room. Many of us take steps each day to pursue our own wellness, for our own sakes and for the wellness of our future patients. We are working to keep human connection at the forefront of our minds, damming back science’s tendency to see patients and people as a clump of cells and molecules with or without dysfunction. We refuse to forget the experiences, hopes, fears, joys and pains permeating the tissues around hearts. When Aiesha came to me with the idea of Behind the White Coat: A Night of Storytelling, she was moved to bring out these hidden permeations in her peers and facilitate the connections and reminders of those elements within all of us.
The people we meet in class are all incredible people, and Aiesha and I want to know the students sitting next to us every day on a more personal level. After two months of medical school, Aiesha realized she only knew facts about her peers, not stories nor characteristics about them. We want to know their fears, their flaws, what events have made them the person they are.
On February 7, the normally treatment table-filled OMM room was dimly lit; an arch of seats speckled the ground facing a central riser where a microphone stand towered. People began filing in, hushed and subdued, maybe due to full bellies from the food that lined the hallway, the calming lights, anticipation or a combination of them all. Students watched eight of their classmates share tales of loss, growth, family, love and laughter. Two students shared original poetry about how their hometowns shaped them, one student talked about the regret of not speaking up and another taught us the lessons learned from losing a grandparent to disease and the importance of cherishing life.”
Aiesha Polakampalli, OMS-I
“The night ended with a first-year student volunteering to share a story about his relationship with his grandfather and how this relationship shaped his cultural identity. Before this event, I had never spoken to this student before, even though I know I walked past him almost every day in the library, his head buried in a textbook. Now, I can walk down the hallways of Grosvenor and see this student who before was a stranger, but now a friend who I can connect with over the pain of missing a grandparent. The students who performed and attended felt that this event was a necessary breath of fresh air, a humbling reminder of who we are and why we commit ourselves to a lifetime of service.”
On this February evening, more than 70 students, faculty and staff gathered in the OMM lab on our Athens campus to participate in “Behind the White Coat,” a storytelling event organized by Aiesha and Sami. Inspired by “The Moth” Podcast, Aiesha and Sami created this space for students to share deeply personal stories with the intent of fostering community and enhancing connections with each other. We are thankful to the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact at the Scripps College of Communication for their generous financial support for the event.
Watch the videos at YouTube.
Behind the White Coat Spotify Playlist