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MUSC medical school graduate integrates life lessons

News Center | May 12, 2014

Chelsey Baldwin MUSC medical studentChelsey Baldwin takes a moment before graduation to pose in front of a Magnolia tree planted in memory of her sister, Lauren Baccari, a former MUSC medical student.
Sarah Pack 

This week, I graduate from the Medical University of South Carolina. Our mentoring physicians reminded us in the last weeks of the year, “They are going to call you doctor.”

We nod, understanding the weight of the responsibilities that now fall upon our shoulders. The same mantra is pounded into our heads as we practice running codes. “Should I assess the rhythm now or wait until the end of compressions?” I ask my preceptor. The answer given is one I’m becoming familiar with, “You’re the doctor, you decide.” Given such a charge, one stops and thinks, how did I get here?


As the end of any important experience, I’ve been told it is wise to reflect upon it to understand the impact and contemplate changes for the future. Such a process inevitably makes us better people rather than being leaves simply blowing in the wind on to the next event without appreciation of the last. However, I have always found the more extensive the time and the more diverse the associated feelings, the more difficult this task becomes. The reflection of my time over the past four years in medical school reveals this to be a daunting task. Yet I am all the more motivated to do so, for the experiences have been profound and without a doubt, life altering.

About two months prior to graduation, I reported to the first floor of the basic science building to have my photograph taken for our class composite. When I arrived, the photographer reminded me that it seemed “like only yesterday” that I had been in the very same office several weeks prior to starting my first year to have a picture taken for The Catalyst, MUSC’s campus newspaper. I agreed. Yes, in some respects, time has flown.

Baldwin's fellow students helped her get through the tough times. 

As I recall those first weeks, I remember vividly the nervousness and anticipation of meeting my classmates and the uncertainty of how I would perform academically. Those feelings I eagerly put behind me as my confidence grew. Yet, once more, I have begun the cycle of uncertainty as I approach my first days as an intern. Thankfully, however, I feel confident that I’ll once again come full circle and will leave UVA a competent physician. Ironically, I am nervous to be out on my own, a feeling shared by many of my classmates. Our fear is rooted in the desire to avoid wrongdoing to our patients and for that reason, I will own the fear.

The basic science years, both year one and two, deserved a graduation of their own. It was an incredibly challenging time. I loathed our confinement to desks and lamps and angrily grumbled about the gloves I had to wear inside the library during the winter months as I plundered through mountains of lecture notes. Those were the days, however, when I made the most valued of friends. I depended on their interjections of anecdotes and creative complaints to break up the impending sense of doom as we fought to not fall behind in the face of an approaching exam.

While we worked ourselves to the bone during test weeks, forgetting showers and the appropriateness of non-stretch pants, the end of those periods were unfailingly followed by an epic rally for the post-test celebratory parties. While some lived for the weekend, we did so for the “golden weekends” that followed exams. To this day, I retell with great enthusiasm the stories of the debacles surrounding the release of nearly 200, 20-some-year-olds who were finally liberated from the confines of their books for a weekend of freedom and indulgence.        

The clinical years were filled with mixed emotions. Applying the first two years of instruction to the clinical setting came with such a greater level of satisfaction. After all, that was why I applied to medical school: I loved, and continue to love, patient interaction and the challenge of diagnosis and treatment. During my Internal Medicine rotation, I feel as if I flourished under the challenges and idolized my up level residents and attending physicians for their expansive knowledge. I chose to use Internal Medicine as my training path for a career in primary care and look forward to taking my position at UVA Internal Medicine program within a primary care track.   

Chelsey Baldwin 
Chelsey Baldwin and her sister Lauren Baccari celebrate a special moment. 

An experience that I am often questioned about with regard to my clinical years, is the experience of patient death and what effect it has had on me. I must admit it has been an evolving theme of my career and my life, and I still struggle to fully understand it myself, let alone explain it to others. I had the unfortunate experience of losing my sister, Lauren Baccari, during my third year of medical school. Devastation is the only word I can use to describe my plight at that time.

The unforeseen nature of her death a mere few months before her own graduation from medical school made it nearly impossible for me to find solace. Lauren undeniably affected my decision to come to medical school in the first place.

 Plaque on the tree in memorial of Baldwin's sister

I, originally coming to college with visions of law school, loved her passion for doing something big, selfless and challenging with her career. Her vigor for life and strength against all odds is greatly missed. I’ve found that among the many thorns that surround the loss of my sister a bloom that I have come to appreciate are the words and actions that comforted me in the days following her death. I now have a truer understanding about putting those feelings into words for my patients who need them, making my repertoire of skills unique to my own journey.

In terms of my own reflection on medical school, I am always amazed at how the words of Charles Dickens describe my experience with near perfection: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Editor's Note: Inside Track is a periodic column by MUSC faculty and staff about the intersection of health matters and our lives. Chelsey Baldwin reflects on what it's like being part of MUSC's graduating class of 2014 in the College of Medicine.




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Resources >>

MUSC College of Medicine

Inside Track archives

News Center archives

2014 MUSC Commencement



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