What would prompt the President of an Alumni Association to write an article with this title about a school that positively impacted our lives. That is because that is how many of our colleagues feel about Downstate. Yet almost everyone who graduated from Downstate realizes that they received a top quality medical education that made them both well prepared for their post graduate training and for life as practicing physicians. Unfortunately the experience at Downstate closely resembled being a contestant on “Survivor” or going through Navy Seal training. We made it through and put Downstate in our rear view mirrors.
Medical students were thrown into a hostile environment and expected to be self-reliant and perform well under stress. The hospitals we were educated in were understaffed, underfunded and had the sickest patients with the worst prognoses. Yet sometimes inexperienced medical students were their primary physicians. We were expected, as recent college graduates, to rapidly adapt to this emotionally and physically challenging harsh reality.
There was no nurturing, no gold stars, not pats on the shoulder and often no thanks from the patients we helped. Our professors, attendings and residents expected nothing less from us than a great job. There was limited sense of collegial behavior and our professors were anything but nurturing.
For these reasons we really don’t have the sense of community and desire to reconnect.
But that is a mistake. All of us should be grateful for the amazing, but often unpleasant, opportunity we had to be soldiers on the front line of a healthcare battle for the health and wellbeing of those under our care.
Despite the harsh reality of Downstate there were also pleasant memories. Remember the first time you delivered a baby into the world or you put somebody back together in the ER. When I was there we had the escape of the Theater Club where for a nominal fee you could attend unsold shows. It was hit or miss, previews, shows about to close, Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway where the vapors from the actors screaming moistened your face. It was a good way to learn about airborne transmission of disease first hand.
Even veterans who have suffered under the harshest life and death conditions reunite to celebrate and remember. So should we. We should reconnect on social media, engage in local alumni meetings and sometimes return to Brooklyn for Alumni reunions. Share your experiences both good and bad.
We should also lend support to the current “Survivor Downstate” students as mentors, future employers and as contributors to the scholarship funds of the Alumni Association.