By Adam Gabara and Kelly Salman
The bus started to move, leaving the School of Medicine and commencing our long excursion to New York City. With an upcoming Mechanisms of Disease test, stress levels were high, but the excitement of the trip overrode most of those worrisome feelings. After all, this was the annual History of Medicine trip to a city that some of us, including myself, will be seeing for the first time.
Driving over the Jersey bridge, seeing Manhattan in all of its concrete jungle glory, all I could think about was all the historical events that took place within this massive cityscape. It may have been my public health background coming out, but I imagined the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to be screened and processed, infectious disease spreading rampant through the crowded streets and apartments, and rats carrying disease to food establishments. Nonetheless, this trip was going to provide a great learning opportunity not possible in the lecture halls back in Kingston.
Even though we arrived late at night, we all split up to explore the city. Some went to celebrate a classmate’s birthday, while others explored the famous Times Square, and enjoyed a late-night meal before heading back to the hotel. For some, it may be easy to forget the history engrained in a city as modern and metropolitan as NYC. Times Square has been a central hub for many decades and known for major landmarks such as the Broadway Theatre, and we tried to see as much as we could in the short time we had.
The next morning, after a nice breakfast at a small Lime stone café and a trek through Central park, the whole group rejoined at the docks to make our way around the Statue of Liberty and towards Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. While on Ellis Island, we were able to explore the National Immigration Museum and learn of the courageous, and sometimes tragic, stories of immigrants from all over the world coming to America to start a better life.
Our guided tour of the abandoned immigration hospital was actually an enlightening reminder of how far medicine has come. It also demonstrated how differently physicians approached immigrant health back then, keeping them segregated from the populace of New York on the basis of more than just symptoms of severe illness. Many of these immigrants came from countries in Europe, such as England, Ireland, and Germany, among others. This immigration hospital has been utilized for expectant mothers to give birth, for mental health screening, and for the treatment and quarantining of infectious diseases. The mental health screening, we learned, was based on what would now be considered archaic classifications of mental illness (idiocy, imbecile, moron, and feeble-minded). Immigrants were screened with math questions, and assessed further for behaviour and more questioning.
Saturday night was a huge bonding experience between the first and second years, as many of us attended an improv comedy act. We were able to mingle at the nearby bar, with special attention from the owner/bar tender, and to unwind after such a busy day. After the comedy, we all regrouped at a fancy top floor cocktail lounge overlooking Times Square. From here, we were able to take in the city and reflect not only on the history we learned so far, but the relationships being formed this weekend, and how important it is to take wellness break. Something we often forget in our busy lives with constant assignments, tests, research, and extra-curriculars (I was worrying about landing all the movements and vocals to Living on a Prayer for the QMed A Capella group).
The next day, we were able to see both the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Academy of Medicine. The museum, coincidentally, was displaying their main exhibit titled Germ City, a huge public health historical piece. This exhibit covered the history of various outbreaks in the city of New York and taught some of the basic science behind infectious diseases and their spread. At the academy, we were taken through a picturesque journey through various illustrated medical teaching texts including topics such as dermatology and obstetrics. It was surreal, looking at guides that medical learners would have been using many centuries ago to visualize pathologies and procedures that we ourselves will be learning on our laptops and medical texts in the year(s) to come.
And just like that, our journey was ending. We made our way back to the hotel for the long trek back home. This experience gave me much to think about, from all the medical tragedies and triumphs that occurred here, to seeing the profound impact medicine has had over hundreds of years, and how various modalities for medical instruction have changed over time. I will always think fondly of my first experience in New York, and I am reminded how lucky we are as medical students to have these opportunities to enhance our medical journey. Even on the ride back, whilst studying for the MOD midterm amongst my studious or sleeping colleagues, I realized we need to enjoy journey of medical schooland little things along the way. Like the unique experience of sitting next to a classical piano in a McDonald’s- now that’s something that will stick with me forever.