During my first semester of medical school I transformed from eager, excited, enthusiastic, medical student into – by the start of my second semester – a cynical, removed, studying machine. My desires, dreams, and ideals were extracted from me and replaced by darker, more practical concerns like grades, grades…. and grades. I study so that I can make good grades and have a future that includes the next semester of medical school. More and more I find that I no longer study because I am fascinated by human physiology: the wonderful, self-sustaining system that is the body, and am hardly inspired by the notion of one day being able treat disease, remove pain, or fend off death.
But I am resolved to stay positive.
I just finished a book entitled A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (hilarious read if you’re into hiking…or laughing). Reading it reminded me of some of the backpacking trips I have taken and how they always begin with a joyful spring in your step as you are embarking on a new adventure into the serene wilderness. Not too long after though, you encounter hills, heat, wildlife, fatigue, etc. and the joy fades rapidly into a sort of appreciated (or maybe just tolerated) misery – glad to be out hiking (in theory), but simultaneously angry at having chosen to walk with a heavy pack through the woods just for “fun”. After five hours of hiking, with a weighty pack up a steep incline, every step is a battle. It is at this point you realize, with each torturous step up the rocky slope, that you really only feel anger.
Slowly though, as you get accustomed to the new, more challenging lifestyle, you can begin to breathe again, your head lifts a bit, and you can begin to see that you have ascended a great mountain and the view is amazing. You begin to disregard your burning, fatigued muscles and start to delight in your accomplishment. The lightness begins to return to your step and you’re soon whistling and chatting as you’re joyfully traversing the countryside. The air smells sweeter, the water crisper, and the freeze-dried food is even tastier. What other experience – other than extreme challenge – will allow you to savor a sip of water or a handful of trail mix more than a glass of fine wine or a gourmet meal?
I think that challenges like these are part of a cycle of growth that re-introduces some perspective into our lives and reminds us of what is truly valuable.
Similarly, medical school is a great adventure with the most exotic and amazing experiences along the way, experiences that rival any trail in the world. But just as no epic trail is without its steep inclines, deep rivers to cross, and long descents; no epic career/calling/profession is without its trials and tribulations. The challenges I have faced in medical school are more intense than any I have faced to this point, but I’m determined to keep plodding along until I can reach the top of this hideously tall mountain, and can once again raise my head to take in the view. And when I get there it will be that much more meaningful having worked, fought, and climbed all the way from the bottom.
I hope that no one considering a career in medicine takes it lightly. I thought before I started med school that the hardest part was getting in. You have to take the MCAT (a challenge on its own), get good grades in college, do extracurricular activities, volunteer, etc. Then you have to write a personal statement, write all your secondaries, and finally have to interview. I was convinced that after all that was over I would just have to study as I had in undergrad and then I would graduate and start residency and that the worst would be over. I was wrong.
Last semester we took 28 credit hours. That is twice as many as I took some semesters in college. And each credit hour is more intense. It is 100 times harder than applying, but somehow still manageable. There are definitely those who drop out the first semester because they are doing it for their parents who are doctors, or doing it because they have really good grades and think that med school is what they should do. No, it’s only survivable if you need to do it, if you love it, and you have a real understanding of what it takes.
Like I said initially, I am staying positive. That being said, I am currently in the midst of a steep incline and I definitely have a negative outlook on life. But I will persevere (cursing under my breath) as long as it takes because this is one trek that I know will be worth finishing.
If anyone has any questions about real life med school, just ask! I’ll be glad to let you know my experience so far. And I promise I will try and stay positive. Follow my blog!! And my instagram/twitter!! You rule.