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Kiah Bertoglio, 27, of Orange, a fourth-year medical student at UC Irvine, discusses the pressure she puts on herself to succeed.
My father is a small-town physician in Butte County. I would go into the office with him when I was little, and he would tell me about his work, and he just loved it so much that it kindled a passion in me at an early age to do emergency medicine. I started working in a mentorship program in the emergency department of our local hospital when I was 14. I’d shadow doctors and ride in ambulances. I was instantly hooked.
I moved to O.C. and started medical school at UC Irvine in 2009. On my first day, I was more excited than terrified. Med school can be isolating. It can also be overwhelming at times. Med students don’t know everything, and we’re going to make mistakes. And we have to accept responsibility for that, too. We’re all hardest on ourselves. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like I should know so much more, and be a “real” doctor already.
For example, during my OB-GYN rotation, there was a problem during one delivery: The baby was too big for the birth canal and had turned completely blue. Bright blue. It all happened quickly, and was so scary, because so much was at risk. But a senior resident was right there, and she had quite a bit of experience. After a couple of minutes, and a few maneuvers, we were able to save the baby. Both the baby and mother ended up doing well. The system is designed so that we always have the support of a more experienced doctor, but even the best doctors can see devastating outcomes. When I saw the baby turn blue, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to fix things. And I wanted to be that person so badly: the person who could do everything that could be done.
In the end, the simple reality is that the training takes time for everyone, and my dad always says that it does work. I’m in my final year now. I’ve had to remain confident that the expertise will eventually come, and it takes getting up every morning and trying again.
The most difficult thing is keeping a sense of balance in my life. It can be difficult to identify myself as something other than what I am studying, especially when I’m staying up late every night and always working. I get so little time to sleep, or do anything else, that I don’t feel human at times. Fortunately, my family and friends are always there for me. I’ve certainly come to them for support, and they’ve been there for me at every turn. And my fiance, Greg, has been so encouraging throughout all of this. He brings a sense of lightheartedness to life, and reminds me of everything else that’s out there.
I’ve just submitted my residency applications. I’m so excited to go into emergency medicine. When I’m in the ER, I can go for hours. It’s given me a taste of what I can be. I’ll be helping people when they are in the worst situations, and it doesn’t matter what insurance they have, who they are, or what situation they’re in. It’s a privilege to help people in those vulnerable moments. —R.P.