By Dr. David Scales
“What kind of gas do we use for laparoscopic surgery?”the surgeon asked me. It was my first laparoscopic surgery ever, during my gynecology rotation in medical school. We were inflating a woman’s abdomen for a tubal ligation, “tying her tubes” to prevent future pregnancies.
“Carbon dioxide,” I answered, having brushed up on this the night before.
“What color is the gas tank?” he asked.
Hmmm. Different gases have different color tanks? Clearly important, but it had been in none of my preparatory reading. I stared at him blankly, my own color draining from my face. I tried unsuccessfully to peek at the tank.
“Grey,” he said, deadpan. “What color is the oxygen tank?”
Blank stare again.
I was being “pimped” — asked to instantly recall medical facts (“pimp” is said to derive from the acronym for “put in my place”). My supervisor was proving his point: Not knowing the different tank colors, I might not notice if someone inflated an abdomen with oxygen, potentially causing a horrible explosion when a bleeding vessel was cauterized.
It clearly left its imprint — this happened in 2005. To this day, I remember that green is oxygen and gray is carbon dioxide. But it was also humiliating: How could I possibly have anticipated his line of questioning?
This week’s Journal of the American Medical Association has a panoply of articles on quirks of medical education like pimping. The studies raise serious questions and concerns about the health and well-being of medical students and doctors in training. Taken together, they raise one of the loudest challenges yet to the age-old medical culture of “no pain, no gain.” Continue reading