I had just finished my second test in medical school. I flopped down next to a fellow student I met barely a month ago, exasperated and on the verge of tears. I was exhausted and quickly becoming emotional, realizing I was too uncertain about a (large) handful of those musculoskeletal questions. As I fidgeted and wrung my hands I asked her, “Is this what it’s going to be like?” I already felt incompetent and fearful, after being flung into the first month of classes head first.
I had always been on the quieter side of the spectrum in class, even during the Master’s courses I completed before medical school. I was able to slip away from group activities when I wanted to, relieving the pressure of feeling like I always had to perform exceptionally in front of others. Going into medicine changed that. With our daily lectures, weekly courses on doctoring, volunteering and shadowing in various locations, one always has to be on point and presentable. There is no way of stealthily heading for the back door of the cadaver lab early, or of not getting your hands on the scalpel at least one time during our two-hour sessions. Basically, medical school forces you to be completely there. Students and professors look to you—to pay attention, to be interested, to be accountable.
At the first health fair I volunteered at, a fellow student and I were assigned the task of taking patients’ blood pressures and doing an occasional HPI. Any time I walked through the main lobby, the undergraduates manning the registration table would greet me with a quick “Hi Doctor!” I laughed and told them that I was barely a doctor, but they just shrugged me off and persisted with the formality. If they had only seen me fumbling with the first few blood pressure readings, maybe they would have changed their minds. Only a week or so later I was studying at the umpteenth local café when the barista saw me in my scrubs, anatomy books in tow, and handed me a free latte. He explained that I looked like someone who was going to save a life. I appreciated the caffeine but brushed off his words and said, “I’m just a medical student!”
I walk confidently through the halls of the medical campus and the adjacent hospital, but I tend to look down more often when dressed in my white coat. I feel a bit like a fraud, as though I was given an award before accomplishing anything of worth. Maybe my feelings are a bit unwarranted—retrospectively, it was not a piece of cake being admitted to medical school. Rather than being bashful about the worth and responsibility that others see when I slip on my white coat, I am beginning to feel humbled but driven. Driven by the trust others have in me and my budding medical knowledge. Accepting that yes, in fact, people do see you differently when you sling that stethoscope around your neck. Somehow having ‘MD Candidate’ in the signature line of my email has changed a lot; I emailed dozens of professors regarding projects and volunteer opportunities, and all of them have responded in a timely manner. Call that a coincidence, but I distinctly remember having trouble receiving interested responses as an undergraduate despite my various well-crafted pleas for a research position.
There is weight in our role—put there by those who look to us to be leaders, to change something, improve the world in our small ways and to listen and help our patients heal. As I prepare for the next semester-long stretch of long days and even longer nights, I am taking my responsibilities in stride. I know I will not be able to do everything, but with a friendly hug and a deep breath, I keep on keeping on, hoping that one day I will be fully deserving of the trust I have been granted.