Medicine is a sacrifice. I knew this upon admittance into medical school. I did not know the sacrifice would be an erosion of my humanity.
The last year of medical school heralds more than just the end of an era. It brings with it the confidence in a career choice doubted several times just a year ago.
The most stressful part of the medical school application process for me was the last phase, when there was nothing I could do except wait to hear back. I feel most content when I know there are concrete actions I can take to influence an outcome I care about.
Congratulations, you’ve started medical school! The dream you have had since you were nine years old is finally coming to fruition. You’re going to be a doctor! Just … not in 2012, when you think you’re going to graduate. In 2018. I’ll get to that later.
Here you are: the place that you have been attempting to achieve for many years. At this point, I am sure you have heard a lot of advice regarding your future. Many of those ahead of you have probably given you the ubiquitous “Enjoy fourth year!” advice before you enter the trenches that are residency.
“What’s the matter with everybody?” asked Mrs. Palmer, a hopelessly demented woman with water wells for eyes. She had just endured her third consecutive tongue-lashing by the bulldog masquerading as a nurse anesthetist.
First year of medical school: / Don’t remember much. / MD/PhD students, you know what I mean. / Learned how to use a stethoscope.
Whenever I consider my time in medical school, I am surprised by how quickly I have been able to cultivate a sense of belonging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, far from home and in a very unfamiliar setting. After all, I grew up in a single-parent household with my dad in a small, weary mill town in central Massachusetts called Ware. He was a carpenter who always carried at least two jobs to make ends meet. I did not really thrive in medical school until my first rotation on the wards, where I was reintroduced to “my kind of people” — patients.
“Write your name on the paper,” he said. Since he was a senior who’d just gotten into medical school, and I was a simple sophomore who’d chosen to attend the session, I did. “Now write Dr. in front of it.” I complied. “If you’re reading that and you don’t feel anything, medicine isn’t for you,” he said. I looked at it again, my name with a Dr. in front of it. I didn’t feel a thing. I crumpled up the paper, chucked it in the trash and didn’t give it another thought.
The words by now flow off my tongue. “I’m Sarab, the fourth-year medical student” comes off in a rhythmic flow without a second thought. My position is comfortable, even simple. I am expected to be there, participate to some degree and occasionally know the right answer — I am, after all, a fourth-year post-match medical student.
Looking in the mirror, a different person peers out at me — a stranger even. This stranger has bags under his eyes and a permanently exhausted look. This man seems a little haggard, unshaven and scruffy. Gray hairs scatter themselves around a 25-year-old head, but what most makes him look different are his eyes.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the clinical portion of medical school. Now you’ll work alongside interns, residents, attendings, pharmacists, social workers, and a myriad of other health care workers to provide quality care for your patients. As a resident, I’ve seen medical and PA students struggle with feelings of anxiety, incompetence and disorganization. They are excellent with patients, but often have difficulty with team dynamics and understanding their roles as clinical students. Here are some tips for success modeled after Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”