Why medical school is like playing defense

There is no glory in defense. Fans don’t notice it. The most perfectly-executed defensive play results in a non-event; that is, the other team doesn’t score. Then everyone forgets about it, and the game moves on.

But there is an art to defense. It is reactionary in nature: You must read the offense and anticipate what’s coming. You have to study the opposing players one-by-one, so you know their strengths and weaknesses—whether to force them left or right, or to hang off and let them shoot from long range. You gain pride in developing your defensive skill. You understand most people don’t appreciate it, but YOU do, and can be proud of yourself for that.

And you get scored on. A lot. You make mistakes, and you read the player the wrong way. But there will be another defensive opportunity, and then another one, and then another one — so your only option is to learn from what went wrong. Appreciate the way the offensive player scored on you and do not let her do it again like that. You adapt.

You know where I’m going with this. Medical school is like playing defense.

There is no glory in studying. Your friends from home don’t appreciate the fact that you spent 12 hours in the library on a Sunday memorizing drug names and mechanisms of action. But, just like defense, you can have pride in yourself. You can appreciate the fact that you did it and how much information you are capable of cramming into your brain.

Medical school is reactionary, too. There is an onslaught of information, so you figure out how to organize and adapt. Sometimes you’ll do great. Sometimes you’ll fail. Either way, another test is coming so you learn from that experience and use it to ready you for the next one.

There is a cliché quote that coaches use: “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” And while I would always argue that winning games wins championships (coaches didn’t like it when I did that), the sentiment is there. Putting in the work that nobody appreciates is crucial for long-term success. We can’t expect a pat on the head for everything we do. Sometimes the only reward we’ll get is being able to tell ourselves that we did it — and sometimes, that is all we need.

Jamie Katuna is a medical student.  She can be reached at her self-titled site, Jamie Katuna, and on Facebook.

Image credit: Jamie Katuna

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