Charles Dickens began his classic “A Tale of Two Cities” with that iconic phrase, and I can think of no better way to summarize the beginning of my medical school experience. It truly has been the best of times, but at other times has felt like the worst. Medical school is turning out to be everything I thought it’d be and more – in some great ways and some difficult ones.
Though I may seem ambivalent about my experience, make no mistake – these have absolutely been the greatest eight weeks of my life. My White Coat Ceremony was a particularly unforgettable moment. Words cannot describe what it felt like to finally be able to wear my white coat for the first time. To most people, it may appear nothing more than a piece of uncomfortable white fabric that seems made to fit everyone and no one at the same time. However, for those of us who spent long nights in undergraduate libraries longing for the privilege of owning one, it is almost sacred. It represents our official acceptance onto the pathway of the profession of our dreams. It seemed to mean even more to my family than it did to me! It was so gratifying to see my family swell with pride, and I am eternally grateful to have been able to share that moment with them.
Interviewing my first patient was an equally amazing experience though it was profoundly humbling. There I was, in a real patient interview room, with my professor and my classmate watching, trying my hardest to remember what exactly I was supposed to be asking this very real patient. Even as I was hoping that I was asking my patient the right questions, I was praying that he wouldn’t ask me any questions because I’d most likely have no idea how to answer them. In that moment, I was confronted by just how much I didn’t know. Yet that realization was inspiring in itself because I realized that I’m actually being trained to become a physician. I was intensely focused on making it to medical school while I was in college, but in some way I didn’t fully comprehend that making it to medical school would mean I’d become a real-live doctor. These patient experiences have helped that I’m not just a student anymore – I’m a physician in training.
While this truly has been the greatest time of my life (for more reasons than I can fit in one blog post), I would be remiss if I did not admit that it also been the greatest challenge I’ve ever experienced. I had often heard that medical school makes college feel like middle school, and I always thought that folks were exaggerating. They weren’t. The volume of information that I’ve been asked to master has often been overwhelming and I have struggled to adjust to the pace of learning. Within the first two weeks of class, I found myself doubting that I have what it takes to make it and genuinely wondering whether or not I deserve to be in medical school. These feelings are compounded by the fact that many of my classmates seem to have been born speaking biochemistry. I expected medical school to be mentally challenging, but I underestimated the emotional and even physical challenges that I would experience. Ironically, I’ve learned that everyone thinks they’re the only one that doesn’t have it all together. We find support in each other when we feel overwhelmed. I genuinely feel like I have the most amazing classmates in the world. If I wasn’t among a group of such kind, supportive, caring people, I’m really not sure how I’d cope.
Life in medical school has been a whirlwind. There have been amazing highs, but there have been difficult lows. Through it all, one thing is for sure: it is an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity and I am committed to making the most of it.