My classmates and I recently celebrated what will likely be our final graduation. We are now doctors. Working to become a physician has been a long and arduous journey with challenging exams and clinical rotations awaiting us at each turn. So, for the time being, we are justified in celebrating a job well-done and the end of a tremendously rewarding era.
But deep inside, each of us understands that today is not a finish line. It is in fact the beginning of the true journey that we have been aspiring to for the past decade – our careers as physicians. Through the dissipating celebratory spirit we can begin to see a humbling road that lies ahead, one with its own set of challenges and rewards.
After all, the diploma we received marks our transition to a new identity, one with an extraordinary potential for influence and a serious set of responsibilities. In this transformation, one thing is for certain – our roles will never be the same again. And it is worth our time to reflect on just what these changes entail.
Before today, my primary responsibility in society as a medical student has been to absorb knowledge and to grow competent. Doing so has required relying on countless benefactors for their support throughout my training. On rotations, hospital staff have protected me from doing tedious, menial work so that I could solely focus on learning. My family and friends have rejuvenated me time and again as my steadfast support system. Even my patients have generously allowed me to learn from their own bodies in their most vulnerable states so that I could hone the art of healing with my own five senses. My errors were generously condoned and corrected by my superiors.
It is humbling to reflect on the notion that while I have given much of myself to earn my MD, I have in fact received much more. Today, that will hopefully change.
It is a simple yet powerful notion, one which re-frames my identity and will influence the trajectory of my career. Graduating from medical school to be a doctor symbolizes the transition of my responsibility from mainly tending myself to tending others. It celebrates the chance for me to begin to give back. Therefore, from this day on, my primary responsibility in society as a doctor will be to give back to society – my teachers, patients and support system — for all the ways in which they have empowered me. While there remains much for me to learn, as a resident and eventually an attending physician, I will be looked upon as an agent that can alleviate my patients’ suffering and advocate to address inequities. I will aspire to be the voice of assurance and wisdom to my team and patients when navigating the treacherous lines between life and death. I will have the responsibility of serving as beacons of humanism and humility to future students and colleagues. I will need to catch and resolve my own, as well as others’, errors. And of course, all the while I must not forget to continue learning.
It has only been a few days since graduation and nothing seems to have changed. But in reality, everything has changed. We now proudly carry the title of being doctors and all of the solemn responsibilities that come with it. We now have the chance to give back.
About Jason Han, MD
Jason Han is currently a first year Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery Resident at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from the Perelman School of Medicine in 2017. He is drawn to stories in medicine that reveal deeper insights into our humanity, psychology, and values. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonHanMD.