“Medicine is a team sport,” said one of the many administrators who spoke to my class during medical school orientation.
This utterance rang true to me, as I have always believed that medicine relies on people working together in a cooperative and respectful manner. Yet, what I never imagined is just how challenging it is to work in a group when you are the most passive person in a room.
I came into medical school shy and feeling a little out of place. After all, I didn’t decide until the absolute last minute that I definitely wanted to matriculate in the fall of 2014. Part of me wanted another year off to continue exploring health policy until one night in early August it just sort of hit me: I was making excuse after excuse in the book to delay the inevitable because I was afraid of failing. So, the next month, I strapped on my big girl gladiator sandals and headed off to medical school terrified out of my mind. Throughout orientation week, I met amazing people and vowed that I would maintain both my sanity and the healthy lifestyle I had worked so hard to cultivate during my stint as a Masters student/part-time work superstar.
You’d be surprised how quickly those vows fell apart. For one, gross anatomy was much more challenging than I could have ever predicted it to be; while I rationally understood the information, finding a way to shove it into the remote corners of my brain such that I could access it at the drop of a hat was next to impossible. I have always been an anxious person, but the first trimester of school truly tested my resolve to keep my cool under pressure. When it seemed that everyone else in my anatomy lab group knew all the structures already, I pulled back and decided all I was capable of doing was reading instructions out to the group. I never had surgical aspirations, so it made perfect sense: let the more informed people do the dissecting, and I can provide insights gleaned from the atlas and instruction manual. My group mates never seemed to mind — we had jokes about the roles each of us played in lab — but in time, my own insecurities began to creep in: “Can other people sense how inadequate I am? Why am I even here? I knew I was incapable of this…” So by the time I got to the first practical and exam, it’s not hard to imagine why I failed the former and barely passed the latter.
And like any perfectionist struggling with her own demons, I lost control of my thoughts, feelings and emotions the moment I realized that I had really failed. I cried. I cried some more. And then I cried even more. But for the first time in my life, I picked up the phone and called my classmates, people I had just met a few short weeks ago. (Side note: you know you have great friends when after only a couple weeks, they know your favorite pie is Key Lime, proceed to split an entire family size pie with you despite being lactose intolerant, and they are willing to sleep on the unvacuumed floor of your apartment in exchange for your
mom’s Indian food company.) With the help of my friends, I dragged myself into anatomy lab the next day, still mortified and self-conscious about my ability to actually do this thing. It was completely unclear to me whether my anatomy group sensed my sadness, or whether they just instinctively knew what I needed to do. When I felt capable of dissecting, they let me try my hand at it and even cheered me on when my work may not have been as pristine as theirs. They came in after hours to quiz me on key landmarks, to go through models, x-rays and CTs for only the four hundredth time, and to tell jokes which I still laugh at, all these months later.
Outside of school, I found time for the things I love by spending less time on school. It’s funny how that works. The less I studied, the more efficient I was in the time I spent with my books. I made time for yoga, dinners downtown with friends, afternoons spent at home with my family, and lots of sleep, because that’s just what I needed. My grades went up. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel happy, but I caught glimpses of it: sharing a pint of gelato and extra spicy chana masala with a friend to celebrate passing our metabolism exam (while watching Britney Spears’ earth shattering performance in “Crossroads,” no less), learning how to do a proper squat (and enjoying it!), discovering truffle egg toast and many other little moments in between. So when the time came for my anatomy group and I to reflect on how far we’ve come in the past year, we struggled to find the words. It was never easy. There were several roadblocks, most of which came from my own insecurities. There were days when I thought I would have been better off quitting. But, by the time you read this, I (fingers crossed) will be a second year medical student, or, a quarter of the way to completing to my degree — something I could not have done without the countless people who made each minute matter.
The ever quotable Taylor Swift once said, “you can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain.” This high, this feeling of accomplishment that comes with knowing you can hear a heart murmur or with acknowledging what a privilege it is to care for people and their health, it is worth the pain, the self doubt and the fear. And it’s only worth all of those things because I have a whole team of people with whom to share it all: my family, my friends-who-became-family, my
classmates team and all of you. Cheers! We did it!
Doctor of Policy is a column dedicated to exploring and challenging contemporary health policy issues, especially in the fields of behavioral health, health care access, and inclusion, all from the eyes of a public health girl in a basic sciences world.