It’s 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and you’re finally leaving the library, ready to head home. You aren’t staying late because you have a test or an anatomy practical coming up the next week. Leaving campus late on a weeknight is just a normal day in medical school. It’s what you do to stay away from falling too far behind. It’s what you do so you have some vague idea of what lecture is about the next morning. It’s what you have to do so you can have the few hours of free time to watch the game on Sunday or to have that extra time to go out for a friend’s birthday over the weekend. These are the nights you wonder if it’s worth spending a significant portion of your 20s, the time of your life that everyone seems to have some form of advice about, studying for a degree. It makes you wonder if it’s worth sacrificing relationships for; if it’s worth coming out of school with $200,000 of debt for; if it’s worth going into with all the unpredictable changes in health care. It’s at the end of the day—after waking up early for hours of lecture, review sessions and studying—that these thoughts come to mind.
But then I wake up in the morning. And I’m not worried about how much class I have, how behind on reading I am or how I need to email back that doctor about a research position. Instead, I’m excited. Not just excited; I feel like I won the lottery. Every single day. That’s how I feel when I wake up. I’m excited that I have the opportunity to spend my day learning how to help people. I’m excited that this is only my first year in school and I get to do this for another three. I get to learn the unique art of medicine in all its finesse. I spend my days practicing how to interview patients and learning about exciting research being done on next-generation drugs that hold the promise of treating diseases that were previously untreatable. I learn about how our bodies and our minds work every day. But perhaps best of all, I get to do this with 185 of the smartest, most interesting and well-accomplished peers I could have ever imagined knowing.
There are a lot of reasons people go into medicine; many of them are reasons I share with others. And almost all those reasons still bring me encouragement each and every day. Being able to help others, making a difference in someone else’s life, studying to apply science for the curing of disease, spending your life committed to serving your community; all noble and powerful reasons to go into medicine and reasons to remain driven. But I think it’s the classmates you have in medical school who are overlooked as a source of inspiration, encouragement and support. The camaraderie I have seen form within my class in the last six months is nothing short of amazing. Class Facebook pages and Dropbox folders overflowing with peer-edited study guides, words of praise and encouragement posted to our group and constant class-wide social events; these are just a few of the ways I’m constantly reminded that we are all doing this together and that we’re going to make sure we all make it through together. Knowing that if any of us are having a bad day (which there are quite a few of in medical school) one of our classmates will be there with support. There has never been a time I have stumbled upon classmates in a group asking each other study questions and not been invited to join, and there has yet to be a time where a classmate was too busy to take the time to patiently try and explain a concept or lecture I was confused about.
One of the unique things about medical school, compared to many other graduate school programs, is that almost every person in my class is going to hold the same occupation as I will, and they will be my colleagues. And I think that aspect of medical school makes these years in school a unique bonding experience. No one else in the world is watching us make the slow transformation from medical student to physician as closely as our fellow classmates. These are the people who watch us struggle through an interview with a standardized patient and stumble through our first anatomy dissection. These are the people who let us ruin their veins by allowing us to practice drawing blood on them for the first time. These are the people who are watching us make the biggest change in our lives.
It may be premature as a first year, but I can’t help but be excited by the thought of working alongside these people for the rest of my career. I can look forward to having friends all over the country after we disperse to our respective residencies upon graduation. I can look forward to running into these colleagues and peers at medical conferences and events. I have the privilege of seeing these names across the top of journal articles detailing their labs’ groundbreaking research. I’ll hear these names being mentioned as the deans and department chairs of medical schools and hospitals around the country. And I am certain that these are the names I’m going to look up when my children need to see a pediatrician, when my parents need to see a doctor or when I want to get a checkup. That’s the confidence I have in these classmates that I see every day, at lecture at 8 a.m., bringing work ethic and character that I strive to emulate.
There are many places to try and draw encouragement from in the emotional roller coaster that is medical school, but it’s our classmates who are more important for our own success than we might think.