As a fortunate incoming medical student, I would like to congratulate my future physician colleagues on getting accepted into medical school during an unprecedented application cycle. This piece is dedicated to the members of the class of 2025. Like you, I worried about matriculating into the class of 2025 on top of all the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic threw at all of us: worries about our loved ones, our personal physical and mental health, job security, and decline in social interaction. As if facing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic was not enough of a challenge, we had to worry about scheduling and taking the MCAT, submitting our primary and secondary applications, securing letters of recommendation, and preparing for — and acing — virtual interviews. However, we overcame all these obstacles, and soon, we will be attending medical school orientation and taking part in the honored white coat ceremony. Whether the white coat ceremony is virtual or in-person, please savor the moment with your loved ones who helped get you to this special day.
In fact, take time to be thankful for the fortunate position we are in. We have many reasons to be grateful. We have our health. We have our cognitive faculties, our perseverance, our leadership abilities— attributes which no doubt made an impression upon the medical school admissions committees. We made it through the most competitive medical school application cycle. We get to be at the forefront of tradition and innovation as medical schools evolve to educate the next generation of physician leaders —us.
Perhaps physician leadership has never been more needed than now. The current pandemic has taught us the price of being a physician leader, both positive and negative. Further, the current pandemic has taught us the need for effective communication by not just health care officials, but by everyone in the system who has a vested interest in their community’s health. That means that even the lowly medical student, who sits at the bottom of the hierarchy in the clinical space, must exhibit compassionate, yet effective, communication skills to those who will see us in our short coats. Perhaps our patience will be tried by anti-vaxxers. Perhaps our patience will be tried by those who suspect us to be beholden to Big Pharma. Perhaps our patience will be tried by those who think only certain people should be physicians because their prejudice is based upon sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion. Perhaps our patience will be tried by those who lash out and exclaim that medical students “don’t know anything.” Nevertheless, we must always strive to meet them with compassion and understanding.
Compassion and understanding are also key elements to fighting imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is that insidious, confidence-robbing feeling that creeps into many health care professionals’ minds, and for many, it starts in medical school or residency. However, we can take steps towards fighting this dread; we can work to feel deserving of our spot in medical school and our future positions as physician leaders. We must acknowledge that we have unique strengths, and thus our uniqueness is a net positive to health care because diversity builds strength. We must understand that we have attributes that are worthy of compliments. For instance, the “average” medical student has above-average qualities in the three examples I mentioned above: cognition, perseverance, and leadership characteristics. We must show compassion towards ourselves and allow ourselves some grace because we are ultimately imperfect humans training in an imperfect system. Yes, that means forgiving oneself when making an error, or over-napping after an exhaustive school day, or not completing a full Anki review deck. Finally, remember to seek out help. In “Scrubs” parlance, remember that you’re “no Superman.” Rely on your classmates to vent. Approach your senior classmates for survival tips. Your clinical mentors and favorite physicians will be happy to share their advice and validate your feelings of imposter syndrome with their own anecdotes about how they dealt with their imposter syndrome.
In closing, congrats again to the class of 2025. You beat seemingly insurmountable odds during the most competitive application cycle that coincided with a once-in-a-century crisis. You belong here, and I cannot wait to address you in the future as “Doctor.”
Jason-Flor Sisante is a medical student.
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