Sunday, October 7, 2007

BWH - Medical School, In His Own Words

In the Medical School Trenches
Bruce W. Halstead, M.D.

In 1943, I entered the School of Medicine, then the College of Medical Evangelists, later to become known as Loma Linda University, under the auspices of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). I had been moved up in the world to Private First Class. We were sent to boot camp at San Pedro, California, for about 10 days. There they attempted to teach us medical rookies to march to the tune of a screaming sergeant who raised our morale by telling us what a bunch of idiots we were. Then we were shipped back to Loma Linda, and down to school business. We would march around the campus every afternoon, and then into an auditorium where they would show us hate films that were taken in either the Pacific or European theaters. These were psychological brainwashing films to let us know that the enemy was not a nice guy and capable of committing horrible atrocities - all of the films were taken in actual war zones. The films were explicit and shocking. I have never seen any of these films shown after the war was over.

The medical coursed was condensed from four years to two years and eight months. Most of the vacation time had been eliminated, but not forgotten. We had a tough master sergeant and an even tougher second lieutenant, both of whom watched over their fledgling medical students like a couple of mother hens. The head of the group was an Army Captain who was more educated and genteel, but a no-nonsense gentleman. The trio made it emphatically clear that if we stumbled just once inour class grades, they would blow the whistle and we would find ourselves in the real army and in unfriendly trenches. Most of us became inspired and dedicated medical students.

I well recall the first day of medical school. Our first class was in anatomy. The new class of aspiring medical students, most of whom were dressed in either Army or Navy uniforms, sprinkled with a few civilians, sat in the anatomy amphitheater in hushed and somber contemplation awaiting the arrival of the anatomy professor, but did not see anyone having a professorial appearance. We did notice, however an old man in janitor coveralls sitting silently by himself in the first row. After some delay he rose to his feet when up to the podium and said, “I am Dr. Samuel Crooks, I will be introducing you to the field of human anatomy.” Whereupon, he went to the board and drew a beautiful posterior view of the female body with colored chalk.

Dr. Crooks drew all of his anatomical sketches with colored chalk and great precision, never using a single note. At first blush the class thought that this gentle old janitor professor was going to be a push over. How wrong we were! I was at the top of the middle third of the class. My first anatomy test grade was 35%. Most of us were in a state of shock. Our grades were first sent to the Army and then they were posted in the hallway, all of which was a mortifying experience. I could feel the hot breath of the trenches breathing down my neck.

After a reasonable recovery period most of us got the hang of what the kindly old janitorial anatomy professor wanted. A few of the students didn’t learn fast enough and they were hauled off to the trenches or they learned to swab the decks on a battleship bound for an unknown destination. Our daily assignments usually included over 100 pages of homework each day, and anatomy was only one of the courses that we had to endure. Welcome to the reality and medical school! We now looked upon the master sergeant with much greater respect. What an inspiration to study and the burning of the midnight oil.

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