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Some Things You Can’t Learn from a Textbook

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To COVID vaccinator Rafe' Zou'bi '18, human interaction is the essence of medicine
Some Things You Can't Learn from a Textbook

When you think of someone’s first job, a campus coffee shop or bookstore might come to mind, not vaccinating hundreds of people during a global pandemic. But for Rafe’ Zou’bi ́18, this was his first experience in the workforce. Sure, he had previously practiced on mannequins as a medical student at Cardiff University in Wales, but those were not real people with fears and anxieties, or stories of loss and grief.

As a vaccinator, Zou'bi witnesses people’s hardest days and most intense emotions. Some people have lost loved ones to COVID-19, some are anxious about the side effects of the vaccine and some feel an overwhelming sense of relief upon being jabbed. “As a vaccinator,” Zou’bi says, “you need to make sure not to fall into the trap of this becoming a routine, because it might be a routine for you but for the patient you are the highlight of their day.”

That is why Zou'bi believes medicine is about much more than memorizing anatomy and studying diseases; it is about the human experience. “Sometimes you’re the first person to see a human being enter the world and sometimes you’re the last person they see before they leave it.”

As part of the Community and Rural Education Route (CARER) at Cardiff University, Zou'bi is spending 10 months working at a medical center in Bethesda, a town in North Wales with a population of around 5,000 residents. The CARER program offers greater opportunities for medical students to actively participate in the delivery of healthcare, as opposed to a hospital setting where students often only observe doctors in action.

Training in a smaller community such as Bethesda allows Zou'bi to receive training that will more greatly resemble his future work as a doctor seeing patients daily. “One of the main reasons why I came into my discipline was because of the human experience and interaction,” he says. “One-on-one human contact is what makes medicine worthwhile.”

Now in his third year of medical school, Zou'bi says that while human connection is one of the most rewarding aspects of medicine, it is also the most challenging. As both a vaccinator and medical trainee in Bethesda, Zou'bi often meets patients who disclose personal details and life stories they might not share with their closest friends or family. “People only come to you with problems; that’s the only aspect of their life you interact with,” he says.

Carrying the weight of people’s most difficult moments and traumatic experiences can be daunting. “How do you draw a line between being a doctor at work and coming back home as a person?” he asks.

Zou'bi believes the only way aspiring medical professionals can be certain they want to enter medicine is not in the classroom but by working in the field. “Content is only one part of medicine. You can learn all your anatomy or your physiology but still find medicine very difficult because of patient interactions…no textbook can prepare you for that.”