I made it through the rigors of pre-med. I made it through (almost all of) med school, with a few scars to show for it. And now that I’m a big, bad MS4, I finally have the time and the distance to reflect on all the literal blood, sweat, and tears it took to get here.
I am a loud and proud Duke Blue Devil. It was my dream school despite my born-and-raised New Yorker parents saying, “South of the Mason-Dixon line? Absolutely no way!” My four years there surpassed my wildest expectations. But I failed to live all of my Duke dreams out.
I’m proud of the person that I have become as a result of persevering through the MCAT, Steps 1 and 2, clerkships … you get the picture. But throughout all of this, since the moment I decided to go into medicine, the pressure to succeed has been a heavy weight dragging me down. I had to have a 4.0 every semester in college, or I wouldn’t get into medical school. I had to run myself to the bone trying to excel as a medical student, or I wouldn’t be a good residency applicant. I had to get at least XXX on Step 1, or I would be worthless.
At Duke, basketball is king, and I went to as many games as I could in the beginning. But as my medical school aspirations grew stronger, the number of games I attended dwindled to a pathetic 1 during my senior year season. Looking back on the night we won the NCAA tournament during my freshman year, I remember two things: 1. The electric rush of taking part in the ultimate Duke experience 2. Taking myself out of the party when the clock struck midnight so that I could retreat to my all too familiar spot in the library. My organic chemistry midterm was in 2 days, and I had to get an A.
Every year at Duke, a good chunk of the undergraduate student body (the Cameron Crazies) sets up a tent village outside Cameron Stadium. For months, students live in these tents hoping to score tickets to the main event of the year: Duke vs. UNC. My non pre-med friends tented every year. We pre-meds never did. After all, would we get enough sleep in the tents to study as much as we needed to? We had to keep our grades up.
I got that A in organic chemistry. But, at what cost?
We take the best care of our patients when we take the best care of ourselves. My relationships and interests outside of medicine keep me happy, healthy, and well-rounded. They help me be a better doctor. Regularly watching Duke basketball with my college friends, for example, has kept me sane as I grapple with the rigors of medical school.
If my memory serves me correctly, organic chemistry came up in medical school just once: a 3-day metabolism and biochemistry unit in my first year. Other than that, my knowledge of electron pushing has not made any contribution to my medical training. Duke basketball, however, has come up many times with my patients. It’s something that really excites me, and the people I meet in the hospital can relate to that. It makes me stand out from the assembly line of faces and scrubs poking and prodding hospital patients all day.
Rooting for a basketball team brings all sorts of people together, and it’s that one common goal that serves as the glue. Cheering for a team is not unlike rallying around our patients to help them beat their illnesses. That’s how Duke basketball makes me a better doctor- it reminds me how to connect with almost anyone.
I only wish I had participated more in my college years. I would have been happier then, and it would make me a better doctor now. As hard as it may be to remember when pursuing a profession that requires us to compete and claw our way to the next step, there is such a thing as holding on to academic excellence too tightly.
Albus Dumbledore said it best: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” Wise guy, that Dumbledore.