sorry to hear about your problem. Know that it's very common, and although I've never experienced it, I have had friends who have been terrified by it. I know you can get into med school even though you may feel like that; just make sure you get desensitized before you enter, or it may affect your performance in med school.
Tip for ya--A friend of mine used headphones and music while she worked with cadavers to get over the initial shock. Try it out, if it's feasable.
Thanks guys, I am actually heading off to med school this fall. I have never fainted while shadowing a doctor (I've been in the ER and OR). However, I have gotten very dizzy in both cases and had to leave. The doc in the ER was a friend of mine and was very helpful and understanding. After being in the ER for a couple of days I had over come almost all of my inconvenient tendancies. Ironically, I've never had a doctor seemed too concerned over it, but it's the nurses that always give the "you had better change carreers" talk. I did faint when I visited an anatomy lab six years ago, and I have never taken an anatomy course in college, so I am just a little bit nervous. The last thing that I want to do is have to leave a lab, or even worse, a clinical experience. It was comforting to hear that other people have the same problem. I guess it just takes getting used to the situation.
Have you fainted? - I take it you must have. This can be very scary and so I thought I'd share my experiences with it. Sorry to be so detailed, personal, and lengthy but I feel it?s the only way I can answer your question from my perspective. I'd love to hear more of what you've experienced as its not very commonly discussed due to fear of appearing 'weak' or as the type of person who isn't cut out to practice medicine.
I have while shadowing at a cancer center - not once, but on a few occasions fainted. For me, it had nothing to do with the intensity/severity of cancer treatment. I've had extensive prior clinical experience dealing with/seeing blood, guts, and gore and have absolutely no problem with any of that. I am strong willed hence such a fainting experience was particularly scary for me ? I couldn?t understand why it was happening to me triggered by such unlikely situations [a woman simply recounting her symptoms as opposed to disfigured flesh and blood]
After much introspection, I realized my fainting was a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus of gynecologic bleeding [chemotherapy induced side effect in some patients]. It only happened when I was listening to women recount this symptom.
Throughout my life I've somehow associated unnatural bleeding of this type [not normal menstrual type bleeding] with the horrifying violence and cruelty of female circumcision [the actual unconditioned stimulus]. I've come across vivid descriptions of this procedure in my early adolescence (perhaps an age too young too have handled it), read a personal account of it by Daris Warie (she's an African model/spokesperson) in her bestseller novel, Desert Flower. Subject to graphic images of it with my HS Amnesty International club etc.
All of those times I have uncontrollably fainted or come close to it. As far as I am concerned female circumcision is the only thing that has this effect on me.
At first I wasn't so concerned about my reaction to this procedure itself. It?s a very horrible procedure and in my opinion a human rights violation and hence fainting is not an inappropriate reaction. A very strong, determined friend of mine even fainted for the first time in her life when witnessing the procedure in Kenya.
Yet what concerned me was that my fainting was inappropriate in the context of the patients that I fainted in front of. It was highly embarrassing and I was very scared b/c I was worried that this would impact my ability to serve as a physician. At this point I knew that being a doctor meant and still means everything to me career-wise. Therefore I found a way to confront the problem and deal with it. I decided to treat myself with the same classical learning approach that I used to understand the situation [I apologize if you aren't familiar with this psychology principle - Pavlov's dogs etc.] I decided to dissociate the unconditioned and conditioned stimuli in my head. I did this by subjecting myself to view Ob/Gyn surgical atlases and textbooks. I went back a week later and saw a patient with a severe case of gynecologic trauma - at first I was so scared to go in the room b/c of my previous fainting. But I made myself do it and I came out alright ? phew that was such a relief! The experience increased my confidence in and commitment to medicine.
Also for me, this wasn?t enough. As a doctor, I feel I should be able to confront the circumcision itself [the unconditioned stimulus] and not just the bleeding associated with it [conditioned stimulus]. Who knows one day I might treat a girl from Somalia who underwent such a procedure. I?m working on that at the moment and my experiences have helped. I managed to sit through 30 minutes of lecture about the procedure for a psychobiology class without passing out last month. A year or two ago, I know I surely would have fainted.
I also decided to relax, keep an open mind and this is key ? Keep breathing! Also, don?t shadow on an empty stomach or little sleep. Granted being a doctor will require to see patients on these conditions but for now take care of your body and mentally prepare yourself for things you will see, hear, smell etc.
Do you have digital cable? ? watch Discovery health or the learning channel on regular cable when they have surgeries and stuff. Read medical textbooks and atlases poring over the disgusting pictures.
So in short, to answer your question: yes its absolutely possible to faint and still go to med school. In fact it?s not an infrequent occurrence among med students. They just have to find coping mechanisms and ways of dealing with it immediately. While I am confident that I won?t, I can?t guarantee that I won?t ever faint in a medical setting. But I am prepared to deal with it, I know I am good with patients and handling everything else plus I have 4 years of medical school ahead to prepare me for whatever I may face.
Okay now my turn to ask a question for all you guys ? do you think such an experience can be shared with a Ed school AdComs? Perhaps via my answer to questions on secondary asking you about a difficult situation in your life and how you have dealt with it? Or is this appropriate to discuss in an interview?
The doc I shadowed was very impressed with me ? he saw this fainting experience as one of strength and commitment and may even have wrote about it his rec for me. Yet others might not - I?m also worried of offending anyone by the personal nature of the matter. Also it might be weird discussing this with a 50-year old man say? neurologist at my interview?
Hey, thanks for your reply. that's some great advice and I'm using Netter right now to just familiarize and prepare. but maybe I need something more realistic than just illustration (photo? video?).
In any case, I also see your ability to cope with fainting as a tremendous plus. I wanted to use a similar essay for my med school app and my coworkers at my lab as well as my premed advisor strongly advised that I don't. They argued that I should never cast any doubt of my ability to complete medical school.
But I still think that it is an impressive feat and as an essay topic, a great way to highlight your other clinically relevant experiences.
Here's a suggestion. It may seem corny but it could help. I used to feel the same way though I never fainted. I started watching shows on TLC like Code Blue, Paramedics, Maternity Ward, etc. I know they were on TV but it helped me to kind of distance myself from the real thing. Like watching it on TV didn't make it seem so bad. Anyway I hope that helps and congrats!!!!
I've fainted a few times, but it wasn't at the sight of blood. It was the face mask. It suffocates me no matter how loosely I tie it and makes me feel lightheaded. One summer I shadowed an OB/GYN for two months straight, and whenever she had a surgery to perform in the morning, I'd go in w/ her. I probably fainted during 20% of the surgeries. It was embarassing b/c she thought I was fainting at the sight of blood. She told my dad about all my fainting spells, and he had some fun w/ the anecdotes for a few months. I don't know how I'll manage to keep myself upright when I'm on my surgical rotation...I wish I had gills.
Omigosh ThingAMaJig!! I have the same problem and it is so embarrassing! I know I don't have any problem with the guts and gore but those masks are just really tough to breathe through...and I think the lights in the operating rooms make it worse, plus the fact that you have to stand in order to watch everything. I hope that when I get to my rotations or when I get to start doing things on my own it won't be such a problem, especially since I am really interested in surgery and I don't want this little thing to hinder my goals!