Month after month of intense pressure to learn and perform on never ending exams. Mental fatigue. Information overload. Having to say “no” to my own birthday, date nights and normal 20-something-year-old things. Coupled with a chronic disease and a painful back injury. The combination of it all recently sent me into feeling the most terrifying of feelings–apathy. I was starting to see myself lose enjoyment in the thing that excited me most–learning.
I knew something was off when I was studying for my last huge anatomy exam. Usually, the process is tough yet still enjoyable in that I-love-a-challenge sort of way. But a few days before this exam my brain revolted. I was forgetting things I had learned the day before. My brain felt fried, useless, beaten up, not my own. In a word–I was unfocused. Although the information was there, I had a hard time recalling it under time pressure. I became easily distracted. I was coming undone. Even though I had studied diligently, perhaps even over studied, exacerbating the underlying fatigue, I had my worst performance ever on a medical school exam. Although I didn’t “technically” fail anything, I failed myself. I had put so much pressure on myself that in the end I became my own worst enemy.
That exam was a wake up call. Not because I was in danger of failing or some real career repercussions, but because I was losing sight of why I was in medical school in the first place. I had become so focused on grades and outcome that I forgot to just enjoy the journey. The reason I am here is to learn medicine. I am here because the human body is the most fascinating subject I have ever come across and learning the intricacies of how it works gives me goosebumps.
I needed a perspective adjustment. I had become so myopic in my thinking, with this goal of wanting to continue to get high marks on exams, that I forgot the big picture. It was humbling to be reminded of what all these sacrifices are for. The funny thing is, as soon as I take myself back just one year ago when I had never wanted anything more than to be accepted into medical school so that I could become a doctor–all of the sacrifices suddenly seem worth it. I don’t feel jealous or sad that I sometimes miss out on things because I must dedicate myself to a greater long term goal. I feel it is a privilege I get that chance.
I am happy to say that I feel re-energized. Studying for my renal and respiratory physiology exam felt completely different than the mental state I was in just a few weeks ago. I am enjoying what I am learning, knowing that in just a few short years I will be putting everything into practice. It was important for me to recognize what was happening to me early on, before my fleeting apathy turned into something deep seeded and harder to turn back from.
Sometimes pressure can be a good thing, but you have to be careful not to let it overcome you. In the first year of medical school in particular, it is very easy to get caught up in performing well on exams and losing sight of the big picture. So if you are going through it with me, let us not forget what brought us here. Watching this video made me pumped for what is ahead. I won’t let myself forget again.