Med Students and Migraines

I lived in Philadelphia for four years in my twenties. The Philadelphia region has nine medical schools. No matter what kind of doctor I went to, whether my primary care or my gynecologist, there were med students afoot.

I was surrounded by med students

My husband at the time was in dental school, and many of our neighbors in the apartment complex we lived in were in med school. My best friend was a med student in Colorado. I loved med students. They were inept baby doctors trying their best to diagnose you with the most insane thing they could think of while trying to convince themselves they had leukemia and were dying.

I saw a med student at my appointment

My migraines with aura moved with me to Philadelphia. After a particularly gnarly attack, I went to my primary care doctor to see about getting a more effective medication. As was tradition, a random med student was assigned to me with my consent. They would do the health history, workup, and anything else needed for the appointment before consulting with their supervising physician, my doctor. Then the doctor would come in and usually redo the whole thing with the med student watching. It was a tedious practice, but I submitted to it as a lover of people getting medical degrees.

A thorough conversation

My med student was super cute and very green. He asked my full health history, far more than the scope of the reason I was in the office. He bumbled through my BP reading, and we’d spent about twenty minutes together when he asked me about why I was in the office.

From aura to stroke?

“I have migraines with aura, and I need a better medication.”

He nodded and asked, a bit too enthusiastically, “Oooh! What does your aura look like?”

I described my aura, which this time had big bright, moving violet fingers in the periphery of my vision accompanied by spots in front of my eyes obscuring my ability to see for hours.

“It’s always so interesting how people have different-looking ones.” He said.

I nodded. There was a pause.

“Oh no! I forgot!” He said.

“What?”

“What’s the date?”

I told him the date.

“Who’s the president?”

“Obama…?”

“Where are we?”

“Philadelphia.”

I didn’t realize at first what he was asking. Then I started laughing.

“I’m oriented to time and place.” I told him. I hadn’t had a stroke. We’d been talking for a while now. He would have noticed, I thought, if my mind was back in the 80s.

All with a grain of salt

The “real” doctor came in, we did the whole dance again, and I left with a referral to a neurologist for better migraine symptom management. I still love med students and want them to get the best education possible, but, as someone who has spent significant time with them, I know to take their medical advice with a grain of salt.

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