An unforeseen part of my internship this summer has been wet lab experience. Although I have taken basic laboratory course, conducting laboratory techniques in a setting in which precision and accuracy are at a premium is a new setting. Starting with micro-disections and progressing to DNA extraction of tumor tissue samples, I learned and practiced a variety of fundamental techniques that are a crucial part of head and neck cancer research.
I am naturally an over precautious person. Therefore, I double and triple check each piece of equipment I use, the numbers I enter into a dataset, and that I am following the procedure to the letter. Along the same lines, I would really push hard when attaching micropipettes into their respective tips. I wanted to be extra sure that there was no leak and that I got exactly the amount of liquid I needed for each step of the experiment. By hour four of pipetting I had probably changed tips over 500 times. I was in a groove working as effectively as I could. However, steady confident hands are sometimes more dangerous than cautious ones. Not thinking that an unbalanced tip box would make a difference, I attempted to attach tip number five hundred and something to my micropipette. The next thing I knew, fifty or so tips were on the ground and I was holding a micropipette that looked a tad bit peculiar. The tip box had flipped! As I looked at the mess in utter fear my boss started to walk over to check on my mistake. Frightened, I looked at my micropipette to remove the tip to set it down; I realized there was no tip attached. Furthermore, the end of it was jagged. Not only had I created a mess, but I had also broken an expensive piece of equipment. It was to both my surprise and relief that my boss said that she had flipped a box herself a while back. Although she had never snapped a micropipette, I felt slightly better about the incident.
The advice of renowned orthopedic surgeon who I had shadowed not long ago only dawned on me minutes after this experience. He told me that as I move further along into medicine, I would realize that each instrument or tool that one uses has a unique purpose. Some tools are used with force and strength and other used with dainty hands. Realizing that I had obviously shifted too much so to one side of the spectrum, I did not feel good to say the least. That advice is as applicable in the lab as in the operating room. I have come to realize that this is only one example of the unique nature of this internship and medicine in general. I am no longer in a classroom setting where one is only responsible for the material learned in one particular class. Rather, competence, an integral block leading to success, is derived from the ability to become an interdisciplinary thinker, calling upon all facets of one’s knowledge in seemingly dissimilar situations to yield well-rounded and informed decisions.