Four weeks from today I will have just finished my first day of medical school orientation. To borrow from the imperturbable Donald Draper, “our biggest fears lie in anticipation.” On the surface, I know exactly what to expect–the work load, the incessant studying, the fast pace, the competition to get into top residency programs–yet what scares me the most is perhaps not knowing the person I’ll be in the end. The person I will unavoidably morph into in the process.
In, “Not An Entirely Benign Procedure, Four Years in Medical School,” Dr. Perri Klass writes,
What I would like to say, looking back, is this: medical school changed me. If you are thinking of going to medical school, or are actually in the process of doing so, know that it will change you. If you love someone who is going to medical school, expect changes. That is not a bad thing, by any means, and it could perhaps be argued that any serious training changes you. I watch medical students and residents now as they move from year to year, and I can see them learning and growing, and I can see changes which reflect growth in confidence and competence. But as these changes accrue, we lose touch to some extent with our old perspectives and even our old personalities. That’s part of the reason I think there’s value in reading the stories that were written while the training was actually happening–and it’s also part of the reason I encourage medical students now to write about their own experiences, to set down pieces of perspective that will remind them of who they were and why they wanted to do this.
Perhaps that is part of the reason I started this blog. To capture the journey. To witness, in slow motion, the change in my point of view. If you asked me today, why do you want to be a doctor? My answer is this:
1. Knowledge. I am thirsty to learn. Few things bring me greater pleasure than knowing that in four years my mind will possess (at least in some limited fashion) the content of hundreds of years of study and research on the human body. I want to know how we work. How to fix us. How to prevent disease and to stop it in its tracks. I want to have the skill of healing.
2. Challenge. I thrive on obstacles. The bigger the better. When I am pushed to perform I find happiness. I am not content simply being. The challenge of getting into medical school contained the happiest years of my life to date (this also coincided with dating and ultimately marrying my husband, so there may be some happiness overlap). I have never worked harder than I did the last three years, and I have never felt more driven–alive. I believe medicine will grant me enough challenges to last a lifetime.
3. The above two reasons are rather self-serving. So for the sake of not being too obvious, there is the great pleasure of helping people in need. That goes without saying. I want to leave, in my own way, some benefit to the world for having had me as a resident.
I wonder how my answer will change. Will I look back and recognize the ardent, eager, enthusiastic self I am today? I hope so. I have come across many doctors who have lost the spark and motivation that brought them to medicine-replaced by cynicism, fatigue and for some, even boredom. Their passion chiseled down to complacency. They warn me, the money is not as great as they say. The politics suck. There is less emphasis on the patient–and more on paperwork and numbers. I suppose every job has its downsides, and the art is not to forget the happiness it could bring you. To not lose one’s self.
May I always be as hopeful as I am on that first day.