On the first day of medical school, I turned to my roommate as we walked to campus from our apartment and said, “I just want to be an M3.”
A part of me could not help but feel anxious. We had worked hard to receive acceptance letters into medical school with hopes of working with patients, understanding complex disease processes and making a difference in the lives of others. Walking into my first lecture as an M1, Molecular Cellular Biology, those hopes seemed like a far cry from our reality.
As I began the many long days yet seemingly short weeks that followed, it became apparent just how premature my statement was. I knew nothing about what being a third-year medical student on clinical rotations entailed. I also had no idea, at the start of M1 year, how grueling but equally rewarding the preclinical years would be for me. Despite the informational overload, the summation of knowledge at the end of each unit gave me the confidence to continue; I finally realized that medical education is a long marathon — not a quick sprint.
When the start of M3 year came along, I was ready: ready to put my First Aid book to rest, ready to be involved with patient care, ready to observe physicians in their realm of expertise and ready to find my place in the broad field of medicine. Now, halfway through the twelve months of clerkships, I ask myself, was it all I imagined it would be as an inexperienced first-year student?
I failed to realize before starting this year that one of the hardest aspects of clerkships is experiencing “the first day on the job” feeling every few weeks — even weekly in some rotations. Contacting the clinic to ask what time you should arrive, getting lost in the hospital trying to find an obscure room (likely without a room number), and greeting new physicians as they speed walk to their next patients (thank goodness for the physician headshots on Creighton’s website) are all moments that M3s know all too well.
Coupled with the frequency of “first days,” the limited amount of time that M3s spend on specific medical teams makes it challenging to feel completely comfortable or competent. As an example, it was not until the last day of surgery that the scrub nurse informed me of something I was doing wrong and the surgeon remarked that I hold scissors “like a kindergartener.” There have been plenty of days that I’ve left the hospital thinking I couldn’t do anything right.
After a few months of interacting with healthcare staff, it became apparent to me that they expect you to make mistakes, ask a million questions, and appear out of your comfort zone. It all comes with the territory of being a first-year clinical student. But feeling incompetent is something that us medical students aren’t used to. Still, if there ever was a time to learn from mistakes, it is during M3 year.
A positive feature of this year is the bond between medical students and interns. At first glance, interns appear to be just another person with that coveted “Dr.” printed on their ID badges but, in fact, they are so much more. They are the ultimate rock stars having survived all the hoops and loops of medical education, still standing on the other side. Unlike their superiors, interns still identify with students, as they were one just a few months ago; they truly see us when we feel invisible, educate us when the confusion sets in and look out for our best interests.
Whether it’s moving their shoulders out of the way in the OR to make sure you have a good view or quickly telling you the answer to the most pimped question the attendings like to ask, they go out of their way to help students learn and succeed. Their knowledge and partnership help propel us to continue studying, and I have found myself looking up to many of the interns I have worked with, in awe of their journey, wanting more than anything to be like them.
While our hopes may have originally been to work with patients, understand complex disease processes and make a difference in the lives of others, reaching the halfway point of M3 clerkships has made me realize new aspirations: working on my own patience and allowing others to make a difference in my life.
I have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture with ease, knowing that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I have found that I can achieve the right state of mind by taking a deep breath and remembering all the hard work I’ve put in, appreciating all of the small but meaningful milestones that I have crossed thus far. I need to embrace all of the new experiences and perspectives that are flooding me with the hope that one day, not too far in the future, it will make me a stronger, more confident doctor.
M3 year may be halfway over, but it feels more like halfway from the start. It has been a blur of confusion and understanding, exhaustion and exhilaration, defeat and triumph. It isn’t exactly as graceful as I had imagined it to be, but it has also shown me a world of medicine that no book, blog, or best friend could have prepared me for – and for that, I wouldn’t change anything.