Dear first-year medical students,
Welcome to medical school — congratulations! You have worked, sacrificed, waited for this moment for many long years, have left blood, sweat, and tears along the tracks of your life marathon. This is the first checkpoint in your journey. You’ve made it. Your loved ones are right here cheering your accomplishments, there are many. That new, freshly-pressed, short white coat makes you look like an absolute stud(ent). It feels incredible. You are incredible. You have chosen a path of remarkable science and humbling servitude. Breathe the sigh of relief that you now have two feet in the front door.
Welcome to the rest of your life.
You have no idea what you got yourself into.
For many of you behind the bubbling excitement lies fear. For some of you, somehow you have already convinced yourself that perhaps you are not ready for this, aren’t meant for this, this must be one huge mistake you’ve managed to stumble your way through. Imposter syndrome has found its ways through the cracks of your door and lingers in the dark corners of your desk. You have already started down the mountain that is medical information, because there is no grace period, and you have wondered how will you ever be able to master all this information. I am here to be honest with you. There will be many hours spent studying, sleepless nights, unending phone calls to mom, a couple of breakdowns, half your tuition spent on coffee with X amount of espresso shots. There will be frustration, perhaps depression, struggle or failure. There will be many moments of questioning — of feelings of unbearable expectations and standards. You will see those around you who have chosen not to pursue a medical degree moving on with their lives. And you will feel stagnant. You may feel alone.
I am here to validate you — it is OK to feel all these things. It is OK to sometimes not be OK. Realize though, you are never alone. You have an incredible community behind you who have suffered the same grueling education who are ready with an extended hand to provide you the support you need. Medicine is a team sport, and we continue to progress by standing on the shoulders of the giants before us. Please never hesitate to reach out.
You will be learning some of the most profound knowledge the human race has been able to discover and contribute to an ever-evolving field dedicated to helping humanity. In cadaver lab you will lift lungs that once gave air, hold a heart that beat more times than seconds you’ve walked this earth, admire gyrus of the brain, become aware of your own neurons firing and wonder to yourself the memories held within the folds of the person who donated their body for your learning. You will be given instruments that can hear a broken heart, can peak through the windows to the soul, can gaze upon vibrating drums, can test the spine that runs along our backs and the tracts that run to our brains. You will learn to take histories and be granted information only a few know and will form bonds that speak of lifetimes, starting with a handshake, sometimes ending with hugs. You will offer tissues when tears come — and they will come — and feel awkward with silence and not know what to say, but you will begin to learn that your presence is enough. Your humanity is enough. This year you will acquire more information than you ever have in the shortest amount of time you have ever been given. When you realize it, you will marvel at the capacity of your phenomenal mind.
These next four years will undoubtedly be — simultaneously — the most difficult and the most rewarding years of your life thus far. When the difficulty comes, remember you are here because you are worthy, because someone entrusted that one day you will be capable of taking care of the world that walks through your front door. You will internalize the Hippocratic oath we all take — do no harm. You will be caring, kind, empathetic to those who are going through the worst days of their lives, and you will do so by carrying burdens on your shoulder only a few in the world are permitted to carry. You will do so with knowledge, with grace, with humility.
It won’t ever get easier than this moment, but trust me when I say you get stronger. Every day you carry a little more than you ever imagine you could. You pick up many pieces in this lifelong puzzle and start to see where they fit. You learn what works for you, what doesn’t. Failures keep coming (they don’t ever stop), but you keep standing. You keep moving. It doesn’t get easier, but your resilience will shock you.
At the end of all this, you will cross that stage. You will get your degree. You will join the ranks of medical greatness. You will pass another checkpoint, continue your journey onto a new chapter.
Until then, remember to take deep breaths. Live one moment at a time. In this field, the days are long but the years are short. Don’t forget to enjoy them. Don’t forget to embrace every single day you are living this honor and privilege. I’ll be right here, witnessing this amazing journey you’re about to embark on.
With open arms,
Zainab Mabizari is a medical student and can be reached on Twitter @thezmab.
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