Not quite doctors/residents/interns/sub-interns: Medical Education Limbo

A common theme I’m hearing among my classmates and I already touched on in my last blog post is that we’re all tired of being “just third years”…. and trembling at the thought of being 4th years and what lies beyond. We’re sort of stuck in a medical education limbo, where our futures can be somewhat planned, but always in the hands of someone else- whether that’s a Letter of Recommendation writer, a preceptor evaluating us after 2-4 short weeks and hugely influencing our grade, or a Program Director for our #1 residency choice. It’s tough leading this life where we are constantly “on” and trying to impress someone by doing something that isn’t totally natural. I can be a good person because I am a good person. But that doesn’t mean my personality meshes with everyone. But to get a good grade, it has to. My doctor this month told me I was too shy and quiet halfway through my 2nd week with him. I started to slowly open up, and now we can comfortably joke and he even called me a smarta**, joking that he wished he hadn’t said anything about my shyness! But that isn’t every rotation, and that isn’t every doctor- many times, I feel as if I’m somehow sacrificing bits of who I am at the alter of “looking good to the preceptor who will be giving me a grade that directly affects my future ranking.” It’s not that I’m doing immoral or unethical things, it’s just that when you act like someone you aren’t for long enough, it’s very easy to lose sight of what really matters and who you really are. So when it comes time to write your personal statement in a few months and define what makes you YOU, it’s increasingly difficult to remember the things you’re passionate about and the bright-eyed bushy-tailed undergrad excited for med school and ready to save the babies from disease (as was my case)!

I heard a really good story on NPR that summed up how I feel at this point in my education. I’m afraid of being “found out.” I don’t feel like I belong, because many of my peers have better scores than I do or are going into more competitive fields than I’m interested in, or have already lined up really difficult slots for prestigious rotations next year. I really feel that at any moment, someone will catch on to the fact that I don’t know that much and will call me out on it and make it known that I don’t belong in this field. I know why I want to be a doctor, and I know the steps and sacrifices I have made (and my family has made) to get me to this point. But the essence of medical education is not rooted in encouragement- quite the opposite, actually. It’s a different form of learning, where you are challenged and made to look foolish so you never forget that feeling and remember the disease/treatment/whatever it was you didn’t remember when the doctor put you on the spot. So I can’t help but feel that the illusion I’ve created of “put-together medical student bound for Pediatrics” will come shattering down if I don’t carefully balance a million things at once. It’s all very unsettling, especially while trying to muster up the confidence to plan my 4th year.
But I know it gets better, and I know it’s all worth it. I’ve spoken to a few Pediatricians recently about my concerns and they all have so much wisdom about how struggles in life shift and how the seasons of life change. A 4th year student gave a presentation yesterday at my site’s Education Day and he said the following:
“Be confident in the knowledge you have. Learn it, remember it, and use it. Don’t spend time doubting yourself. You know the material. Think through it.”
It seemed so simple when he put it that way! I do know a lot more than I did this time last year, or even this time last month. I just need to find the confidence to put one foot in front of the other and keep my eyes ahead instead of getting distracted by the little details.20140315-132500
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