Monday, December 11th, 2017

Moving Ahead while Feeling Behind

Jason Han, MD

My transition to internship has been a journey to reconcile my identity. All of a sudden, upon graduating from medical school, there arose a dissonance between my professional and personal selves when I was granted the MD title.

In my new role as an intern (first year of medical specialty training), a physician, I was imbued with a new professional image in the eyes of colleagues, patients, society, and, inevitably, myself. New expectations and duties began to define me as I was called upon to perform procedures and tasks as a physician, while as a person I was much the same as I was when I was medical student.

Under the current mechanism of transitions in medicine, when one enters a new position, the label precedes the abilities. Like a shadow, who I am and what I am capable of are always trailing behind and playing catch-up with a constantly evolving set of expectations laid out before me.

Simply by the virtue of seeing me in my knee-length white coat embroidered with “MD,” people began treating me differently, and entrusted themselves in my novice hands. They began referring to me as doctor when I rounded. They trusted my medical advice without question. Every day, I work to meet these new expectations.

This can be psychologically challenging since I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up. However, at the same time, this dissonance of identities is one of the most effective ways to compel me to grow. Because patients and colleagues began to expect more from me, and different from medicals school, my clinical decision-making directly influenced patient care, I embraced this responsibility and accountability. Whenever I failed to meet their expectations or did not know answers to questions, I made sure to look them up for next time and reviewed them until I knew I would not forget the information. One never forgets memories when they are infused by potent emotions, whether it is disappointment in oneself or pride in having overcome a challenge. My knowledge base has grown exponentially as a part of this transformation.

Ultimately, these expectations keep me accountable to the actualization of my own potential. In a culture of constant learning and growth, I have come to embrace this dissonance in identity. After all, when one’s capabilities have caught up with and eclipsed these expectations, what often follows is complacency and stagnation.

Having realized that feeling behind is the greatest motivator for moving forward, I rise for work each day feeling more energized and unafraid to be wrong or to fall short of others’ expectations. Feeling behind every day is, in a sense, the greatest blessing that a trainee could ask for because all we need to do is to do is to take those moments to heart and to grow from them.

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.


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