An unsure invitation …
I was an intern at Rhode Island Hospital in the summer of 1965, undertaking my responsibilities
with enthusiasm and thoughts of little else but medicine. One day, I received a letter from the local draft
board stating that I had to report to the nearby examining station.
I called. “I’m a doctor in training. I think I’m exempt.”
With a heavy groan, a gruff reaction followed, “Git down here.” Bang went the phone. The next
morning, I took a bus to the Fields Point Station some blocks away.
“Yes?” I heard as I walked through the door. I showed up wearing my hospital whites, hoping to
be dismissed as soon as they saw me. At the desk was a sergeant with his head down. Before hearing
my plea, he barked, “Over there! Get in the line!” I tried to talk to another soldier. “Sir, I am a doctor in
“There!” he pointed. With a deep breath, I stood in line with a collection of wide-eyed, barely
breathing young men. We entered a large room rimmed with a white line on the floor. “Everything off!”
I had heard from friends about what induction physicals were like.
“Everything?” came a chorus in unison.
“You heard me. Toes on the line!” Someone, maybe a doctor, came by to check us … throat,
neck, heart, lungs, other things. I asked if this was an induction physical. No answer.
“Get dressed. Go to the next room. Take a seat! Fill out your information, then start answering
We sat at long tables with test papers in front of us. At the top of the page, next to
where we had to print our names, was the question, “Number of years of schooling?” I added them up;
college and medical school piled on the others totaled twenty. I looked to either side at my mates.
“Look ahead! Eyes on the test!” There were pictures of machine parts. Not recognizing
anything, I was unable to answer a single question of what they were or how one matched
another—carburetor, spark plugs, ignition wires and tools, lots of tools. I was stumped. The boys on
either side seemed to be doing well, marking answers almost with a marching step. Pictures familiar to
them were unfamiliar to me. I sat staring at the page with a blank look when the sergeant stopped by.
“You did all these years of school!”
“Well, how come you’re not answering?”
“Because I am a doctor and never saw anything like this.”
“You should not be here. You should never have been called. Now get out, Doctor.”
As I boarded the bus to return to the hospital, a known world for me, I was disturbed
with the futility of my morning, though relieved that I would be staying home. I knew where I
was going as the bus tugged me back to the hospital. I thought of those boys who answered the
questions so well. An unfamiliar world was ahead for them.
** Published in yesterday’s GoLocalProv