Reflecting on the journey to the clinical years

I remember opening that email. The overwhelming weight of nervous emotion that collapsed into a wave of ecstasy as I read, then re-read, then read again those words: “Congratulations. You have been accepted.”

That moment marked the end of so much. The destination had been reached. The long nights of studying made worthwhile, the pre-requisites taken and survived. Trying to compile an accurate reflection of one’s life wading through resumes, CVs, hunting down references and contact information all for the application: done.

But that email was only a brief moment of respite. Questions began flooding into the mind to replace the anxiety that had occupied it until that moment. Who would I join on this journey with? Will I find the camaraderie of friendship within this new community? Will I find acceptance and support from this group of strangers of whom I know nothing yet have so much in common?

We arrive and introduce ourselves, all somewhat sheepish. Filled with giddy anticipation a handshake is extended, a name is offered. What was your major? What was your MCAT score? Do such things even matter now? You’re from Ontario? That must be tough with your family so far away?

A few words of welcome from a guest speaker provide prognostications: “You will become close friends as you travel through medicine together. Some of you will become lovers. The desire to seek and find comfort in the protective embrace of partnership is only human.”

Then, on one of those first evenings that combine the perfect ratio of alcohol and elation we dance. We dance together, the music pumping rhythmically and across the dance floor something happens that can only be seen by those who were there. Amidst the gesticulating and gyrating bodies a tide of emotions washes over the floor and takes away with it all the stress, the crippling self-doubt and the nauseous worry that filled our lives as we applied to medicine replacing it with relief. We had made it. We had found friends. We were here and in that moment, on that dance floor we felt as immortal as the Greek Gods. Nothing could take away that sense of victory.

Time passes. More quickly than any of us would ever wish. The predictions made by an introductory lecture turn true. Some of us become lovers. Friendships blossom. We stare down a new challenge: To leave the protective embrace of a lecture hall and begin walking the halls as a clerk, the thought, both exhilarating and terrifying. The friendships and relationships, so easily built and maintained will no doubt be stretched, as we are required to walk forward into this great-unknown alone, greeting fate by ourselves.

The next stage of the journey, so communal until now yet so isolating, beckons us. The sirens call drawing us forward. Who will we be when we emerge from this labyrinth? Will we recognize ourselves? Will we recognize each other?

We know what lies ahead: disease, injury, and death. We will be forced to face human suffering, the likes of which many of us in our privileged existence have never encountered before. People will seek comfort in us, barely knowing our names. We will fail. We will question ourselves. We will wonder if it is worth it.

But in those moments of triumph and tragedy we will grow and begin adopting the mantle of responsibility bequeathed to us, the completion of each block, each rotation, not unlike one of Hercules’ 12 labors in his bid to find his own peace.

The welcoming words of that email sent just two years ago seems so far away now. I am a different man than the one I was on that sleep-deprived morning. I will be a different man again two years hence.

In the final days of our pre-clinical years they ask us to write a reflection on the prompt “From Here to There.” Yet I am neither here as Odysseys stood outside the gates of Troy, nor am I yet there, Ithaca, home, my journey complete. I am still amidst this odyssey with many trials overcome while many more await me still.

Gregory Sawisky is a medical student in Canada.

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