A good friend of mine recently asked about a suitable gift for a former student of hers who is headed to med school this fall. My first instinct was to say,” sleep, give him sleep!” But that’s not practical. Thinking back to my med school honeymoon acceptance phase, I was blessed and grateful myself to have received several gifts. But to be quite honest nothing felt as huge as the acceptance itself. Everything else was gravy, so if anything that should take the pressure off gift-givers. It's always nice when you can give huge gifts that objectively make a big dent: pay all their bills, groceries for a year, a therapy dog(kidding, well sort of). But few have the resources to give those things. There are lists around the web about “grad gifts” etc but my list is a bit different.
The love/money/caffeine combo gift. My summer prior to medical school was marked with a trip home to the Caribbean. Just before my return, my grandmother pressed a hundred dollar bill into my hands and with moist eyes hugged me and said, “We are so proud of you.” The best part was the hug ofcourse (my grandmother gave the BEST hugs, all encompassing, warm and somehow always smelling like cake), but I was floored by the money. $100 USD was a small fortune for my grandparents, and their gifting it to me represented so much more than a celebratory gift. On my return I struggled with the best way to use it and ended up buying something that made me happy and served a purpose: a cappuccino maker. That little machine cost me $30, so the rest of the money went into my bank account. At first my cappuccino maker served its simple function of making me feel a bit sophisticated and keeping me well caffeinated for long study hours. But over the years it did so much more. Carpooling most days, I brought cappuccino for my best friends, and we started our mornings together that way. Four years later my husband and I as a newly married couple enjoyed cappuccino every morning in our our first home, a ritual we still enjoy 13 years later. It has served friends, family and guests. That machine has lasted through two cross country trips, 6 different homes, and is still kicking as it nears 20 years old. And whenever I look at it I think of my now deceased grandmother, proud and smiling, giving me a gift that would last forever.
The inspiration gift. A long time family friend who is also a physician handed me an envelope during the summer prior to med school. It held a quote by Dr.Tinsley Harrison, a giant in the world of medicine and someone with whom I had not yet become acquainted. The long quote included some of his most famous words “that no greater opportunity, responsibility, or obligation can fall to the lot of a human being than to become a physician.” At the time I admit I was a bit underwhelmed at being handed a piece of paper, no matter how inspirational the quote. But I framed and kept it because of who gave it to me. Guess what? In some of my darkest hours in my training when I questioned what the heck I was doing in medical school, could I make it etc, I would turn to that quote on my bookshelf and re-read it. And I would keep going. Inspirational quotes, poems (“the Race” is a great one)plaques and books are great gifts even if not recognized at the time. Books about medical school, the REAL medical school experience, are fab reads before the craziness of first semester begins.
The one that makes you smile. Med school, like all grad programs, is ridiculously intense. Personally I think med school holds an edge in terms of difficulty because of the complexities of human illness, dying and social issues amidst the academically difficult work. Mini crises popped up for everyone, and anything that could make you smile even for a moment was like gold. My mom used to send or bring me care packages from home, the contents of which usually included some kind of food/chocolate, cute clothing, and cards. One day I received a box with the usual assortment of wonderful motherly love-representatives, and something else. It was a small blue and white top, which when spun played “it’s a Small World.” I thought it was ridiculous, and adorable, and really sweet. It made me smile just looking at it, and did the same for my friends when they popped by and distractedly spun that little top. You would never think that this little toy could tame stormy days, but it did. So give them something to lighten a heavy mood because no matter how successful you are in med school, those moods will come. It could be a cartoon, a game, a silly sweatshirt, or a figurine. Anything to do with Snoopy always works for me.
The common thread here ofcourse is that my most memorable gifts came from people whom I loved and were important in my life. So in truth it may not matter WHAT the gift is so much as the person behind the gift and its intention. A surprise mid-semester inspiration card is possibly a bigger gift than the coveted stethoscope at the front end(and get in line—everyone will want to give that first stethoscope to a student). Not that I am discounting other gifts, including money/gift card which is ALWAYS helpful. But in the midst of the whirlwind that is medical school, sometimes what revives your inspiration to be a physician or makes you glance away from the intensity of it all is what you really need.