The power and beauty of writing rest in a process of active narrative formation. The act of expression helps us make sense of what happened, integrate this into our sense of self, and clarify our values that will influence our next steps. Conveniently, our expression serves as a record of both identity and narrative formation, giving us a glimpse of ourselves more intimately than we typically take time for.
Instead, I was worried that medicine would consume me only to regurgitate me as a mere collection of cells and systems – just like those I would be expected to regurgitate on the test. I was worried that the demands of knowing it all would make me believe that I could know it all, that there is nothing in the spaces between what we know. I was worried that bathing in science would make me stop believing in art.
A classmate of mine committed suicide a few weeks ago. Though I’ve heard the harrowing statistics about physician and trainee suicide rates, to be honest, I never expected to personally encounter such a tragedy. The small classes at my medical school allow for a strong sense of community in which we all know each other, celebrate important life milestones, and happily reconnect when we’re together after clinical rotations scatter us throughout the hospital.
My medical school career was complicated by more than just complex cardiac physiology or biochemical pathways. Little did I know that at the end of my second year I would go from knocking on a patient’s door during a clinical session, to sitting in an exam room myself.
The pressure and anxiety surrounding Step 1 is one of the main reasons cited by the USMLE to justify its adoption of a pass-fail grading system. However, many medical students are met with more trepidation about their future as this major anticipated change in Step 1 takes effect.
Presenteeism does not simply exist for seasoned providers; it seeps down the medical training pipeline and perhaps poses the greatest threat to trainees at the start of their careers. The fear of missing out as the “beginner on the team” can be paralyzing when there is so much important knowledge beyond us. Such pressure persists longitudinally, too, as trainees at every level fear that taking time off will appear as a lack of dedication to clinical education or will result in lower performance evaluations.
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?
if we can just cling / and weather this weather, / we can make some things / much better and better.
I’m not the first to think / under my breath, even out loud: / To test positive for Covid. / Even after this morning.
Remember why you’re here. Remember what you value. Decide what your ‘meaningful suffering’ is and don’t waver. For if we do, we too may one day find ourselves running down the hall, away from the very reason we decided to become doctors.
In this interview, we talk to Dr. Stephen J. Swensen. He is dedicated to the support of thoughtful leaders who aspire to nurture fulfillment of their staff. He is a recognized expert, researcher and speaker in the disciplines of leadership and burnout.
I had developed a strong friendship with Ms. D during the rotation, and her passing became one of the first confrontations with grief that I encountered as a rising medical student.