The third year of medical school is met with a newfound sense of freedom. Freedom to rediscover yourself and rekindle your love for all things forgotten. It’s about the thrill of seeing your textbook knowledge come to life or connecting deeply with a stranger. It’s about the humbling moments in medicine that force you to hide tears in the exam room. Allergies, you say.
You can tackle anyone’s drug list now, immediately scanning suffixes to clue you into the drug class. This year, when your extended family asks you what is wrong with them, your differential is more plausible. Once or twice, you may have even been right. Another stroke to your ego.
You have mastered the art of small talk and office charm. You have learned to lay low on rotations until you have figured out who’s who in the office. And your preceptors? They are not so bad. They are human beings, just like you, who simply value a combination of hard work and good character. The latter more important, by the way.
You have been wrong so many times that it does not phase you anymore. Your classmates, once your competition and greatest source of anxiety, are now your biggest allies. The most distant colleague on campus becomes your best friend in the hospital. Everyone else? Just one text away from the help you need, when you need it.
Shelf exams become reunion parties, opportunities to reconnect and exchange tips about your next rotation. You walk away secretly defeated about each exam but have never doubted the curve. A few weeks later, another pleasant surprise. My preceptor actually liked me? You caught yourself cheesing as you read their comments. I really needed that, Dr. so-and-so … thank you.
Alas, just when your life has proven itself stable, you are struck with adversity. Perhaps you had to retake boards. Perhaps your parents became ill. Perhaps you lost a friend, a family member, a loved one. Something precious was stripped from you at a moment’s notice, leaving you stranded in a new and unfamiliar landscape where you find yourself questioning what once was …
Life goes on.
You keep your head down and work quietly, steadfast in pursuit of a greater goal in life. You find support from the people you least expect. And somehow, in your most sorrowful days, you find moments of great joy and relief.
You teeter between great hope and crumbling insecurity. You are burdened with a sense of guilt for all the things you could have done to change the course of things. The most important months of your professional career lie ahead yet you struggle to answer a simple question: Who are you? An overwhelmed medical student, daunted by the tasks of fourth year and frustrated at everything between you and Step 2 studying.
No deadlines exist anymore except for what you decide. You channel everything you have into recreating yourself. Soon enough, your personal statement is complete. Your CV polished, just like your headshot. With a little persistence, your visiting student applications pull through and slowly your fourth-year schedule comes together. You have branded yourself for residency, boasted in ways you never thought you would and somehow … learned to love yourself in the process.
Half the battle for residency is believing in yourself as a strong candidate. It is about saying with conviction this is your specialty of choice because to say otherwise would be a lie. It is about realizing that every step you’ve taken has led you to this path all along. And it is about trusting that you’ll stand taller and smile brighter in the years that lie ahead.
Here’s to becoming the best version of ourselves yet. May we cherish every moment and embrace the journey. Best of luck my colleagues as we part ways … and greetings to my new pediatric family.
Sahar Rahim is a medical student. This article originally appeared in The D.O. Directive.
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