I am writing this, my first reflection, at probably one of the most peculiar times one could as a medical student. It is the eve of an exam and if you’ve experienced attending a medical school anywhere in the United States, you’d know this to be peculiar. I have learned to cope with the stress and anxiety a little better than I had in first semester, but do not be fooled, it is there lurking in the background.
I wanted to express a feeling I have had for the past couple weeks, so here it goes:
I feel unbelievably lucky to be who I am. This isn’t gloating, but I am truly thankful to be exactly where I am. I realized this is a couple of ways. When I was first accepted to my school, an osteopathic medical school, located in a small town in southern New Jersey, I was ecstatic, as everyone is.
This is what happens IF you get accepted to medical school:
You are very excited all summer and then… you start. You become challenged in ways you’ve never been challenged before. I’ve done some difficult things in my life: undergraduate wasn’t always a cake walk; I’ve literally fought another human being in a cage before (legally, via sanctioned mixed martial arts); I’ve completed a graduate degree; conducted primary research in molecular and computational biology; published a paper, etc. All of those things are very difficult in their own way. I won’t say more, or less difficult than medical school. What I can say is that medical school material will, without a doubt, be the most material you will ever commit to memory in your life, thus far… and I am only a first year. Second year apparently, somehow, gets worse.
What does this mean and how do I get back to my original point?
All of the excitement, all of the gratitude for you acceptance goes out the window within about a month, or less. It is replaced. Replaced by peers who complain, sometimes as a joke, sometimes seriously. Replaced by things you find wrong with the school that you didn’t expect. Replaced by the insane study regiment.
In short, the honeymoon is over. Whether you are normally a complainer, or not, being surrounded by complainers, will more than likely turn you into one.
Earlier this block (medical school studies are divided into what we call blocks pertaining to subjects or systems), we had an ethics class on the benefits of mindfulness. I am a proponent of mindfulness and meditation. I think they are invaluable tools. I was, however, upset that the talk was four hours long and took up precious time that I could be using to study. What did I do? I complained. Worse yet, I complained publicly. Someone close to me, who is an M.D., brought to my attention how lucky I was to be here and what I promised to do if I were accepted. It made me realize I had quickly lost sight of my gratitude and my purpose here.
I attended a surgical conference this past week and the keynote speaker made a good point, I can’t quote him, but I will paraphrase:
Being in the seats we were in, the ones at the surgery conference, made us a very certain type of people: medical students. The type of people who are always looking ahead, we have to. In high school we looked ahead at colleges with high acceptance rates to medical school. In our undergraduate we looked ahead to our organic chemistry grades, our MCAT studies, letters of recommendation, shadowing, research experience and gaining acceptance to a medical school. In medical school, now we are always looking to our next block exam, to our board preparations, to rotations, to more research, to getting our dream residency and our dream job. I think this is just a human condition, but it is especially apparent among my peers.
It never stops. We always forget to look back. The work and the next accomplishment is always there; medical school, board scores, residency, the job, the research, the publications, the star case, the star hospital, awards, reviews, and so on, ad nauseam.
He then flashed a candid picture that someone had taken of him. He was smiling in a well lit hospital, dressed in his white coat. He was looking backwards to his two very young sons, who were running to catch up to him. I can quote what he said next because it was simple and it struck me, “Don’t forget to look back.”
It is sappy. It is corny, hallmark-worthy, but coming from this man, a trauma surgeon, who I know is still chasing something; a man who has probably very little time, for himself and to appreciate his life that he has built; for his family and his accomplishments, I knew it was real. I was forgetting to look back.
Gaining acceptance to medical school is an amazing and a life changing accomplishment. This post is to remind myself and you to look back, wherever you are in your journey in medicine, to not be complacent, but to be thankful for what you have.