What is a Browncoat
After years of undergraduate education, followed with more years of medical school, I had matched in my top choice emergency medicine residency program. It was the last of twenty-two interviews I had been on. I received the invitation on just a few days’ notice but I went anyway. I had no connection to Chicago or the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The program director had a funny name and the associate program director had a funny accent. Importantly, I had a great time on the pre-interview dinner where more than a few beverages were had.
I went back to New York and stared at my compulsively put together excel sheet with all the pros and cons for every program I had interviewed in. Location, length of training, cool residents, fellowships all received scores in my sheet. In the end I have always been a gut feeling kind of guy and there was something about the UIC program that drew me to it.
In medical school they try to instill in us the significance of the “White Coat”, hours are spent on how to behave while wearing it and what it all meant. Having worn the United States Marines Corps uniform a few years prior, it was an easy transition for me. However, on day one of residency at UIC they handed me this beige colored coat. The questions were rampant in my mind. Here I was, I had made it, I was a doctor and there was no White Coat. Would I even wear this thing, does anyone? …. Ever.
Three months into my residency I received a message from my brother saying my father had been taken to the emergency room for a stroke and had to be intubated. I was scheduled to work an ED shift in three hours. Instead I bought a plane ticket and headed towards O’Hare. I ran multiple scenarios in my mind for when talking to my chief in case they would try to make me come in to work. Instead all I got was a “Take as long as you need. Don’t worry about your shifts. Let us know if we can help.”
I spent week with my family until my dad was out of the ICU. For the next six to eight months I had a four-day weekend almost every month. At some point I had to tell someone to stop giving me four-day weekends since I wasn’t going back home that often.
After my residency was rocked by the violent acts of a sick man who gunned down our friend in front of our emergency department we all felt violated. As if someone had broken into our home and eviscerated it. This writing isn’t about the events of that day, or the three victims whose lives were robbed, but about how we worked to heal.
I watched on television as the city of Chicago mobilized to help. As both a physician and a combat veteran I felt powerless as I exchanged messages with my friends, barricaded in the hospital asking me to tell them what was going on since they were cut off. While the news media was still trying to piece together what happened the network of residents, attendings, and aluni had confirmed the terrible truth. And within minutes we had also located and contacted every resident that was at Mercy at the time.
Almost immediately the leadership started to reach out. They removed all the residents from our various emergency departments and cancelled all our shifts for the next two days. A space was secured on the night of the events for us to get together and just be. There were no guidelines or rules as to how to behave. Some people cried, others hugged, hands were held conversations were had but most importantly we did it together. It was a sad air we were breathing make no mistake, but being together made it a little more tolerable.
The following day there was a voluntary meeting where we were given permission to not know how to feel which was fitting. People spoke about Tamara and tried to wrap their heads around what had happened. There in the open, exposed in front of about eighty people. Graduates of the residency from years before came back, to their home, to cope, to be.
And then it hit me, I am a Browncoat and this is my Browncoat family. It is still very early to tell how our residency will be shaped by these events. However after seeing how we treated each other, from the interns to the program director, I am very proud to be here. I am proud to call myself a Browncoat and remain optimistic about our future.
A Browncoat is not an article of clothing, it is a member of a warm, welcoming, family. Somebody who trains hard to heal others, someone who has my back and whose back I’ve got. A Browncoat is kindness, grit, smarts, jokes, passion, friendship, inclusiveness and forgiveness.