Sometimes I like to take snapshots of myself and my environment before life changing events take place. One of those still shots came when I received my acceptance to medical school in 2004 (wow, that was a long time ago!). Those around me wondered why I was not frantically jumping up and down screaming like a mad person. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic but at the same time understood the new battles I would face. Not necessarily the sleepless nights and tests but also the battle of being true to myself and truly being happy in life. These are the 5 areas I have focused on:
1. Be Humble:
Like many highly esteemed careers, medicine can really get to our heads. I remember so many premed students gaining acceptance to medical school and just being grateful that someone found them worthy enough. Or many students anxiously walking into their first med school class. Years into training some of these very same students have already lost that humility. Medicine, if you think about it is much like a cast system. The more prestigious the school or specialty the easier it is to succumb to this superiority complex. It is also amazing how much power a white coat or two letters behind your name have. People (family, friends, and patients) just as easily can inflate our heads. For many, acceptance into medical school equates to becoming a trophy for others. We have worked extremely hard to get to this position, but never let it make you look down on others. We must always look back and remember how grateful we were just to serve in this profession. Stay humble.
2. Don’t Let Others Change Your Goals:
A huge problem people face during medical training is not knowing how to manage outside influence. There are great mentors one can benefit from but then there are others who attempt to sway you towards a life you are not meant to live. I have witnessed so many friends being encouraged to pursue a different field than what they are drawn to simply because it makes more money, is more prestigious, or will benefit that particular person (may be expecting free healthcare from you). I’ve even seen people discourage people from medicine altogether. I’ve seen some forced to live a certain lifestyle above their means (built on loans) and some forced to marry a particular type of person. People assume many things about your life when you are in medicine and some will begin to live your life for you if you let them. It is important to discern advice from others because in the end you will have to live with those decisions.
3. Don’t Forget Where You Come From:
Medicine can be very time consuming but never forget your family and friends. Most of us can find refuge here. Its great when they offer that support you need from them but remember you too should support them (attend weddings, baby showers, birthdays, etc). Unfortunately, some close contacts don’t understand the demands of medicine and as you lose some others come in. Give back to your community as well by mentoring or volunteering. It’s amazing how many premeds spend hours upon hours volunteering in the community but when they finally get into medical school or residency they drop it like a bad habit. Sadly, sometimes we have selfish motives behind our good works.
4. Live Your Life:
Many people delay so much during medical school. Some are for good reasons yet all will affect you in the long run. “I’ll wait to get married… to have children… to take that arts and crafts class… etc.” The truth is this God given life is so precious and it will go on with or without you. You don’t want to regret anything at the end of your training. It’s all about balancing things because there will never be a “perfect time, place, or person” for any of your plans. The type A, perfectionist, calculative personality traits many doctors have can really hurt us in the long run. It would be great to live long enough to see your great grandchildren. You also don’t want to be that woman in her mid-30s who waited all this time to have children and find yourself rushing against your fertility clock. I have spent some time training in an infertility clinic and the attending shakes his head every time he sees a women in their late 30s wanting fertility assistance (very $$$). The sad part is many of them are in high demanding careers such as medicine. Time always beats out brains.
5. Keep Your Faith:
Again, time restraints and numerous distractions can pull us from this. Personally, I’m Christian and feel this should come first above all in life but many times I did fall short on holding to this during my training primarily due to poor time management. I was encouraged by watching a friend in ENT who would be worshiping in the pews every Sundays, half-asleep, fresh out the OR wearing his scrubs. I’ve seen a lot of people lose sight of real life priorities during their medical training. Many people put career above their faith. I personally would prefer to be identified as a Christian before being identified as a doctor.
At the end of it all the key is to be happy. At least I believe that is most people’s long term goal. Many feel medicine is a means to this happiness. I’ve seen many doctors enjoying life and I’ve seen some very very miserable doctors. Chasing money, power, prestige, or respect will not bring this. I’ve found that sometimes, thinking back to that excited, ambitious, meek, premedical student with that acceptance letter in hand really allows me to better appreciate this journey.