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Year-End Reflections from a First-Year Medical Student

From my personal experience as a first-year medical student, medical school so far can only be described as a strange suspension of conflicted time-space ironies.

During short increments of approximately one-and-a-half months each, we powered through full themes with overwhelming amounts of information—new pieces to memorize, new conceptual dots to connect.

To provide some context, our medical school curriculum is divided into organ-based themes lasting approximately five to six weeks, coupled with the appropriate anatomical dissections.

Reflecting back on the progress we’ve all made, time seemed to have crept past us unknowingly like some undetectable ninja; but when we focused on each individual moment, each day felt as if it were stretched out into near-endless tunnels as we trudged through the wealth of knowledge we were expected to learn. I wished for the pace of our lives to simultaneously slow down and go faster. Talk about indecision.

Aside from my struggles to accept the academic and social difficulties that encompass medical school, the first semester has been mostly a humbling experience. In the classroom, I am always deeply amazed when the lecturers effortlessly illustrate how these seemingly abstract scientific materials can be wielded as powerful tools of diagnosis and understanding of human pathology.

Outside of the classroom, I am always surprised by the new things that I learn from standardized patients and my fellow classmates. In some ways, it feels that the more I learn about the science behind human physiology, the more I realize that doctoring is so much more than an exact science and really more of an exceedingly complex art.

It is an exciting and terrifying moment realizing there is still so much we can learn about medicine and my own immaturity towards my chosen path as a physician. It worries me that I currently do not and will not have the maturity or capacity to interact with patients with the same grace these physicians exude.

That dream of becoming a doctor has never felt so distant yet frighteningly close to my grasp at the same time. It seems impossible that in a few years (if all goes well), I will have earned the title and expectations of what society sees as a physician. I hardly feel like a physician—I’m still living in the bubble of a simple, idealistic student.

Despite my concerns and fears about my inability to mature into a proper physician, I still thoroughly enjoy the academic and social niches in which I am involved. Not only am I in awestruck admiration for the passion and wisdom evident in each lecturing professor and clinician, but I also am thankful for the privilege to sit among my inspiring fellow classmates each day.

Coming from a relatively homogenous culture for the majority of my life, it is an eye-opening experience to learn beside such diverse individuals with such different backgrounds and perspectives.

I have always been apprehensive about fitting in, and in an entirely novel environment, I had numerous concerns about surviving medical school socially. Perhaps it is being surrounded by like-minded individuals; perhaps it is the constant context of the ever-constant academic life; or perhaps it is the convergence of eccentric characters in a highly cohesive class, but I have, surprisingly, been able to solidify a place in our micro-community and have established many more friendships than I thought I would ever be capable of making.

I ridicule myself when I tell my classmates how being in medical school has been the most social—making the most real friends, attending the most social events, feeling like I actually belong—I have ever been in my life.

As the New Year welcomes us with a warm cardiovascular theme, I am thankful to all who have supported and loved me along the way, and I hope that I have honored them with my slow but continued growth as both an individual and a medical student. I hope to keep honoring them with each step of my life.

Nita Chen Nita Chen (32 Posts)

Medical Student Editor and in-Training Staff Member

Albany Medical College

Nita Chen is a Class of 2017 medical student at Albany Medical College. To become cultural, she spent her early educational years in Taiwan and thoroughly enjoyed wonderful Taiwanese food and milk tea, thus ruining her appetite for the rest of her life in the United States. Aside from her neuroscience and cognitive science majors during her undergraduate career, she holed herself up in her room writing silly fictional stories, doodling, and playing the piano. Or she could be found spazzing out like a gigantic science nerd in various laboratories. Now she just holes up in her room to study most of the time.