A Fly on the Ward, Columns, Featured
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Dear 23-Year-Old Me


Hey Jimmy,

It’s me. You. Us, I guess. Don’t ask me to explain how time-traveling communication works. I assume it’s like the movie Interstellar (which you don’t know about because it hasn’t been released yet) or The Lake House. Anyhow, in roughly four years from now I, you, us, we will graduate from medical school and I thought it would be a good idea at this point, to write back to you just as you’re starting at Schulich Med in the fall of 2011. What I bring to you is a one-time offering of advice and insight. And no, I won’t give you stock tips: it doesn’t work that way.

Before we talk about medical school stuff, I just have to say one thing — take official photographs seriously. You screwed up once with that shaved-head look the night before your Valedictorian speech at Grad, and then you’re going to double down with that disastrous choice for your student ID. Be smart and just take a nice photo. Pictures are often your first impression on others and they can follow you for life. Do it right.

I know you’re trying your best to live in the moment and ‘reinvent’ yourself in your new city. Remember what I said about impressions? Don’t try too hard to reinvent yourself. You can never be sure what impression you’re giving off with a personality that you haven’t genuinely developed. Moreover, you can come off as ‘trying too hard’ pretty quickly, and that just seems fake. So you don’t have to be the loudest one at the party or make a million Facebook group posts in the first week. Chill. Be yourself, it’s gotten you pretty far already.

That crate of essential pre-med books you hauled all the way from Vancouver? Never going to be opened. Try to sell them now while they’re still relatively new. Also, don’t be in such a rush to buy textbooks. You’ll hardly use any of them.

We love our hometown and up to now, it’s been the foundation from which we’ve formed our perspective. Nonetheless, cut down on the Vancouver talk when you get to London. Nobody east of the Rockies cares, until they visit it themselves for the first time: then it’s okay to reminisce with them about our past because they’ve actually seen the beauty for themselves.

And I know you keep telling yourself that you’re tired and cynical and jaded with student leadership and politics. You keep saying you want to get away from all that. “Fresh start, branch out, reinvent yourself,” was my, and currently is, your  mantra. False. Don’t try to abandon this. For what it’s worth, you won’t be able to, so you might as well embrace it.  While you’ve got some time on your hands right now, look for different opportunities. If you’re uncertain, just go for it anyway. Worst-case scenario you don’t get it, and you’ll be grateful for the spare time when exams roll around.

I know you will, but it still needs to be said: make the effort to keep in touch with our friends back home. School and studying are important, sure, and it’s easy to use the ‘I’m too busy’ excuse to push your relationships to the side. But there will always be some pressing matter keeping you ‘too busy’. There’s always going to be one more exam, deadline or social event. These are important things, and by comparison, working to maintain a relationship never seems urgent. Those connections will appear to remain intact. But a neglected relationship is like a mirage, seemingly solid, but without substance.

Likewise, call your parents. Don’t just say you’ll call them. Actually pick up your phone and dial their number. They miss us, whether or not they’ll ever say it. And deep down, you miss them too, no matter how reluctant you may be to admit it.

You’re in for a bit of a shock with your first set of exam results. Don’t let it discourage you. You need to come to terms with the difference between grades and real learning. After 16 years of training to be an expert test taker, you need to deal with the transition towards becoming an adult learner (P.S. this is something we can still learn to do better). Use the tests as honest means of feedback on deficiencies; don’t think of them as markers of who you are or how smart you are. You’ve proven that you’re smart enough to get into medical school. It’ll come together as you get more experience and see more cases. And no, I won’t say exactly which areas you should pay extra attention to, which questions still haunt me or how your rotations went. Just read around the cases you see. The rest is for you to explore and discover. Remember, despite this letter, ours is still a story that you have to go out and shape for yourself.

And, in four years, a new chapter will come.

Work hard, have fun.


A Fly on the Ward

The clerkship experience can be the definition of tumultuous. As we’re suddenly tossed into the wards, it’s easy to become caught up in the shuffle as we move through our service rotation. These posts try to take a step back and become “a fly on the wall” observing and reflecting on the overall movement through clerkships.

Jimmy Yan Jimmy Yan (9 Posts)

Columnist Emeritus and in-Training Staff Member

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at The University of Western Ontario

Hey, I'm Jimmy, I'm a member of the Class of 2015 at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry located in the University of Western Ontario. I'm originally from Vancouver, and did my undergrad at UBC in physiology and commerce. I think these bios are a bit too short to really paint an accurate picture so find me on Twitter (@Jimmy_Yan) and we can connect that way!

A Fly on the Ward

The clerkship experience can be the definition of tumultuous. As we're suddenly tossed into the wards, it's easy to become caught up in the shuffle as we move through our service rotation. These posts try to take a step back and become "a fly on the wall" observing and reflecting on the overall movement through clerkships.