Opinion: Growing up at Lake Tahoe — a 10-year perspective
Growing up in a small town, even a small town as remarkable as Incline Village, can lead to you feeling suffocated. As anyone who lives in a small town knows, it is impossible to go grocery shopping without running into someone you know. It seems that everyone knows your family, your friends, and your personal business.
When you are a teenager, these feelings are intensified and lead to a strong desire to escape as soon as possible. Upon graduating from Incline High School in 2005, I felt a need to broaden my horizons, so I said goodbye to my small town and hello to Europe, where I lived in various cities and countries.
I returned to Northern Nevada to receive my B.S. in Biology from the University of Nevada, Reno, before being admitted to the University of Nevada School of Medicine to pursue my dream of becoming an OB/GYN.
One of our graduation requirements is to do a rotation in a rural community, so I jumped at the opportunity to return home. Coming back to live in Incline after being away for 10 years has been an enriching and eye-opening experience, even though I’m only here for a short time.
Life in Incline does not feel as small as it did when I was a teenager. With an expanded social circle comes less of the perceived scrutiny that I felt so acutely when I was younger. I have also come to appreciate the benefits of a tight knit community.
It is wonderful to see patients you have known for years and catch up on what you have missed out on; there is a human connection that can be lacking in bigger cities. This connection can lead to emotional and beautiful house calls to visit with sick patients or help them get to the hospital; however, this rapport can also lead to deeply personal discussions about yourself and other neighbors.
It is a difficult feat to navigate these social encounters without violating patient confidentiality or coming across as unapproachable. There is a bright spotlight on you because, as the town physician (or medical student), you hold a certain title within the community, and it can feel as though any misstep, however slight, may lead to dire consequences.
Having grown up in Incline, I know many of the patients who come to the clinic, I know their children, or they remember me from school. As I am not a fully trained physician, my education relies on the cooperation of patients.
Some patients do not feel comfortable with me examining them because of our existing relationship or because they have established a relationship with their doctor. I find that I’m hesitant to participate in some examinations, for fear they will feel less comfortable speaking in front of me.
For some, they cannot get past their memories of me as middle school student and so the thought of taking medical advice from me is met with incredulity. It is difficult to navigate past a patient’s opinion of me as a child to establish myself as a care provider.
I imagine as time goes on and as my medical proficiency grows, this will become less of an issue. As I said before, growing up in a small town can be complicated.
I am so thankful to have been able to come home and see my small town from a new perspective; it has piqued my interest in rural medicine. It has also reminded me why I love my hometown so much.
My hope is to someday return to Tahoe and work as a practicing physician. There may be obstacles to overcome, and patients who remember me as an overexcited third grader, but I can see the benefits of working and living in such a wonderful place.
Taking the time to learn medicine in my hometown has been one of the best experiences of medical school and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our community.
Alexandra Watson is an Incline Village resident and native.