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Rite of Passage

The snow has fully started in Albany. With coldness sprinkling its physical manifestations in flurries, the imminence of winter and another year’s end are tangible. The shuffling students that occupy the classrooms thin as more and more of us choose to study within the warmths of our homes and snuggies. The second year of medical school has truly been a test of endurance and resilience. The two-week themes and examinations have certainly been another challenge to adjust to, many of us exploring and adapting different study strategies in attempt to maximize our time for the ominous Step 1 studying.

Meanwhile, I hear the echoes of the now third-year students as my fellow peers divulge their knowledge to the eager and nervous first-years that plead for advice. It is almost if I were listening to a playback of my first-year anxieties. Having almost blown through first semester at a lightning pace, it is natural to talk about the metamorphosis that we have all undergone. Looking back, the plasticity inherent in all of us has allowed for extraordinary adjustment to the increasingly hefty academic demand that has been lumped onto our mental plates within these short few months. It feels strange and even dissociative to me at times that the obstacles that we encountered just 365 days ago now seem so … trivial.

As I hear and watch my now seasoned second-year classmates interact with these doe-eyed underclassmen, I feel a sense of worry and sometimes even slight frustration at the attitudes that are occasionally expressed.

You have so much time, you don’t even know.

Don’t worry. Don’t stress so much. Second year is so much harder.

We had to go through it, too, so it’s not like it’s impossible. Just hang on, and you’ll get the hang of things soon.

I recall a sort of deja vu to the words delivered to us by our now third-years, and I remember that frustration I felt regarding those similar comments. I remember the sense of isolation and helplessness at their attempt to put our difficulties in perspective. Yes, I know each year becomes progressively difficult in a different way. In the long run, the examinations and grades acquired during our pre-clinical years are simply another pebble in the mountain of obstacles we must climb, but in that moment, being told this didn’t relieve any of my stress. In fact, it made it worse. I felt overwhelmed and confused by the chafing changes of medical school, and the knowledge that it will only get worse didn’t exactly ease my nail-biting worries. It’s not that the upperclassmen weren’t helpful. They have been very reliable shoulders that we leaned on, providing their thoughtful ears to our complaints and venting. But along those lines, I also sensed a sort of necessity being upheld to the difficulties that we experience — a rite of passage, of sorts.

And it makes sense. Without rigorous training, the bastion of medical excellence would surely crumple like forgotten days-old pastries. But let’s be honest, casting aside the financial burdens that some of us have placed upon ourselves, climbing out of medical school relatively unscathed and somewhat whole is already tough enough as it is. Surviving the curriculum, keeping abreast with the ever-changing new medications whilst remembering all their seemingly nonsensical names, balancing life outside of medicine — are these not enough as rites of passage? Is it really necessary for students to have to prove to each other that we are intelligent, capable individuals? At the end of this long four-year journey, we all stand shoulder to shoulder as equals, as doctors.

As human beings, we seek validation and respect from others of our abilities. With that, it is only natural that we find it fair that our following underclassmen undergo the same rigors and hardships that we endured as we did, just as our predecessors often expect of us. In some sort of distorted logic, the suffering and struggle that we had to writhe through in order to get where we are has become integrated as one of the numerous requirements for us to confirm our skills and validate the efforts in our endeavors. I am sure we have all heard the core of the phrase, you haven’t experienced first year until you get to x theme or met y professor. On some level, medical school will always entail shared obstacles that we all must learn to take in stride. However, there are so many ways that we can help each other make these experiences less painful without impeding growth.

I think there are so many things that the medical educational system needs to change in order to not only improve medical care, but also to mold more wholesome medical professionals. This change can start with us, the medical students. We must change our belief that being overwhelmed and frustrated is a necessary aspect of medical school. Let’s start with being kind to ourselves and to each other. Let’s can start by believing that success doesn’t have to come with martyrdom and suffering. Let’s start by allowing our peers to lean on each other.

Nita Chen, MD Nita Chen, MD (39 Posts)

Medical Student Editor and in-Training Staff Member Emeritus

University of Florida Fixel Movement and Neurorestoration Institute

Nita Chen is a current movement disorders fellow at University of Florida Movement and Neurorestoration program. She is 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.