I did it. I graduated.
I remember in sixth grade writing a paper about wanting to grow up to be a doctor, and today, I can truly say, “I did it.”
Graduating from residency, beginning my fellowship, and completing my Family Medicine board exam has made me feel as if I have finally put the punctuation at the end of this journey’s sentence. And despite having 12 more months to learn and refine my skills in Sports Medicine and another board exam on the horizon, I feel free. Free from the feeling of swimming upstream, free from the fear of not making it, and free from not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
I know I will face more adversity, self-doubt, and obstacles in the future, but, right now, I am enjoying this feeling of accomplishment. For the first time in a long time, I can take a deep breath and relax.
However, I have to ask myself, “Why was the journey so hard and stressful?” Is it because I am a Type A personality that can make a massage stressful? Is it because the relationship medicine and I have is similar to that of a square peg and a round hole? Or is it because it really is just that difficult? I believe the latter.
So, in an effort to help ease the journey for others, I have compiled a Top 10 list of things I think can make the path to being a doctor a little more enjoyable and/or tolerable.
Here we go…
10. In college, major in something other than pre-med. You will learn enough science in medical school. Choose something like art, philosophy, or dance. It will expand your mind, and you will become well rounded and able to communicate with patients on a “natural” level.
9. Remember that, ultimately, you are a person first and a doctor second. Patients will relate to you. They will trust in your treatment plans and adhere to your recommendations. Find time to decompress. Take weekends off. Schedule date nights. Get involved with charities. Go fishing. Do something to keep in touch with who you are as a person. Don’t let medicine define you. You were John Doe before medical school, be John Doe after.
8. Date. Get married. Have children. Some say that it is too much to handle with studying, it is too expensive, or it is “just not the right time.” I disagree. I think it makes you better. Plus, no matter how hard of a day you’ve had or how grueling your week is, when you get home, someone is there to take your mind off of it. As a buddy of mine said after having his first son, “there are no more bad days.”
7. Read gossip magazines. After hours of memorizing Robbins Pathology or Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll need something to purge your brain. And what is better than keeping tabs on Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and all the other train wrecks in Hollywood?!?! In addition, it will help you understand the many psychiatric problems you will one day be diagnosing and treating.
6. While at dinner, no matter how many of your classmates or fellow residents are present, DO NOT TALK ABOUT MEDICINE!! It always happens — you go out for a relaxing evening and inevitably start talking about work. Don’t do it! It is not fair to the non-medical professionals listening. Instead, talk about sports, weather, or the latest happenings in US! Magazine (another reason #7 is so important).
5. Periodically, wear normal clothes. I think we all will agree that one of the benefits to working in a hospital is the that you can wear scrubs every day. But remember, scrubs are forgiving; they won’t let you know that you’re not tying the drawstring as tight as you used to. Whether you weigh 150 lbs or 180 lbs, you are still going to wear the same size scrubs. Put on your jeans — they will tell you the truth about your circumference.
4. Exercise. Endorphins are good. Plus it will counteract the late night Cheetos, pizza, and soda consumed while being on-call or studying. And before you say it, there is always time! Just find it.
3. Call home. Talk to your mom and dad, brother and sister, hometown friends. Just because you’re “in medical school” does not mean you get to stop being their son, sibling, or friend. They are your support. Use them, lean on them, involve them. And remember, you are where you are because of them.
2. Keep an open mind while doing 3rd-year rotations. Even if you think you know what you want to do, don’t force yourself to like it. Enter each rotation with an open mind. Go with your gut. I wanted to do orthopedics but found myself “tolerating” the OR, not loving it. Yet, I loved taking care of families, seeing the same patient routinely, and developing relationships with patients. So I chose Family Medicine. Had you told me during my 1st or 2nd year of medical school that I would end up doing primary care, I would have laughed at you. But I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.
1. Take a deep breath and relax occasionally. Don’t be like me and wait until you receive your diploma to re-center yourself. Do it daily. Know that although the journey is long, it doesn’t have to be rushed. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the challenge. Realize that you, too, are on your way to achieving your dreams.
And, before you know it, your graduation day will be here.
The next chapter is frightening, but I’m ready, and you will be too. I don’t know where I will practice, what the government has in store for primary care, or how medicine will evolve, but it really doesn’t matter to me much right now. Today, I am happy. Today, I am free.
I did it. I graduated.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my thoughts and experiences during the last year. I’ve definitely enjoyed sharing them.