It’s possible to have fun during medical school

Before I start second year of medical school, I wanted to take this time to reflect on my first year in medical school and use these lessons to ground me as I begin a new school year.

When people ask me how first year was, my first answer is that it was a lot of fun. That usually comes off as a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely difficult moments during the year when I felt overwhelmed and frustrated, which often happened if I was getting 4 hours of sleep every night.

But what helped and what defined my med school experience was having such inspiring, encouraging and caring people in my life. Sure the academic, research and extracurricular experiences are wonderful. But those did not bring me the type of joy I had, say, after having a good conversation or after spending quality time with a friend. It’s really the people – my classmates, professors, mentors – who impacted me the most this last year.

I’ve heard that med school is all about studying. That may be true to a certain degree. But that’s the beauty of the pass-fail system. I may have compromised my level of understanding of biochemistry to develop my relationships with others, but in the end what’s going to get me through life isn’t biochemistry but the people around me.

What I found more interesting is that in med school, since the class size is smaller your friendship circle expands to include people from different backgrounds. It might just be me, but in college 99% of my friends were Asian. So in med school, I was delighted when I discovered that I could still be friends with non-Asian people. I thought something was seriously wrong with me when I had like two white friends and no black, Indian, Middle Eastern, or Latino friends.

Like many other new beginnings, med school is a place to try new things and I attribute that to my friends who supported these endeavors. I joined the a capella group, learned how to dance Bhangra, and sang in a gospel choir. I was lucky none of these required any auditions. Fortunately there were also no auditions to being in the Jubilee Project because I learned the majority of my filmmaking after I joined. In fact,  I felt like this past year I learned more about filmmaking than about medicine.

You may be wondering, this guy’s going to be a doctor? I don’t want him as my doctor.

That makes sense. I agree that I perhaps haven’t grasped the material as well as I should’ve. I guess that’s what second year is for right? Honestly, however, I didn’t feel a need to spend all my time studying. I could’ve and I appreciated what we were learning, a lot of which took years of research to discover and are used to save lives daily.

But to me, there’s more to practicing good medicine than knowing every pathway, vein and bug. I’d like to think that I’ve developed some lifelong friendships, stayed in touch with the rest of humanity, served those in need, and did what I love. These may ultimately end up helping me more in my journey in medicine.

Besides, it’s only downhill from here. Kidding. But really. It’s hard to think of another time in the near future when you’ll have this right combination of people, time, and passion. For that, I am grateful for this privilege to be in med school learning some pretty amazing things and will carry these perspectives with me into second year.

Eric Lu is a medical student who blogs at Elusions.

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