Okay. So, I am in medical school. As in, really in medical school. Let’s take a moment and let that sink in. Tilt your head back and think about it. There aren’t many people that get into medical school. I won’t simply say it’s competitive; that belittles that fact that medical school has a significant lack of enrollment opportunities compared to the much-talked-about demand for future physicians. But really, I am a first-year medical student. I remind myself every day because in the standard cliché but all-encompassing way: people like me really don’t go to medical school. Going to medical school was an unforeseen reality for myself, but it happened, I’m here, and well, it’s a lot.
No one tells you that it’s like going off to undergrad as a freshman, but it is—in a weirder, more overwhelming, five-deer-in-front-of-the-headlights kind of way. Coming from a small town in the Midwest, moving to Washington, D.C. was an adjustment and our relationship is currently complicated. I am too much of a Midwest girl at heart, and D.C. is too “am I a Southern or East Coast city” to notice my frustration, but we’ll find some common ground soon.
Medical school orientation wasn’t cute like undergrad. There weren’t overwhelming displays of school pride nor presentations on the random student organizations that go from weird to awesome. No, medical school orientations are business in the front with a little party in the back. Days filled with information overload, followed by “it will be worth it” motivational speeches. Talks on how you will start at the bottom of the totem pole, work your way up to graduate, just to be at the bottom again for residency. You don’t know if you should be excited or concerned about the amount of studying you will have to do and you are unaware of the thing they call “Step.” It’s so adorable how much you don’t know about the process of graduating, from the importance of Step 1 to the true competitiveness of getting rotations and residencies. But that’s later on, right? Until the dean of the School of Medicine drops some large (but not so large) number of how many days you have until you graduate. Really? I haven’t even started yet. Thanks. But it makes you think about how fast undergrad went and you wonder what you signed up for. Well, welcome to medical school.
Sitting with two hundred of my fellow classmates in orientation, I felt small. There were too many people that I didn’t know and too many new faces that I needed to know. Ugh, I am not good with names, but here goes nothing. The first month of medical school I had to be that awkward, quick Facebook-search person to remember names. That’s not weird, right? Oh well. I’m over it. Most of my classmates were friendly, some were reluctant, and a few were weird but I am sure the many obstacles of medical school will bring us together as one solid and potentially dysfunctional family.
The funniest, but perhaps not-so-funny comment at orientation was the news that our first exam was two weeks after orientation. Okay this is what I wanted? Is two weeks really enough to know “medical school stuff?” We soon found out what it really meant to be an aspiring doctor. Balancing the details of science courses and the clinical approaches of doctoring courses, we jumped right into being doctors-in-progress. No time wasted.
Then boom, the first exam came and went. Then boom, the second exam came and went. We are in this for real. It’s no joke and it’s not a game. We are professionals-in-training surrounded by people who have done this before and being scored by people who want us to do better. All the top achievers and gunners of a generation are sitting together wondering when we will stop learning about biochemistry and get into physiology and anatomy. Trying to figure out if gross anatomy is really as gross as it seems or if they will have some crazy “when I was in medical school” story that will define their first year.
After all this honeymoon phasing in medical school, it’s not hard to forget the excitement of the white coat ceremony when you are studying all the time and wanting to figure out what’s really testable material. But medical school isn’t about taking shortcuts. It’s about walking out of the old fancy postcard picture portion of your school, looking back and saying to yourself, “yep, I’m in medical school,” dropping an invisible mic, and reminding yourself why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place.