It’s important for physicians and medical students to stop and realize how far they’ve come

As I was finishing up with my doctor’s appointment for the required immunizations I needed for medical school, my doctor asked if he could give me some advice for my upcoming journey. Being the clueless pre-medical student I was at the time, I said, “Please do.”  He said something along the lines of “They’re going to try to rewire your way of thinking, but stay true to who you are.” I didn’t think much of his words at the time, but a year and a half later, I now appreciate the truth behind them.

As pre-meds, we get dragged along this path of impressing and pleasing people as we move up the ladder into medical school acceptance. We can often forget about who we once were, as we focus purely on the achievements that our professors and peers can observe. We have the drive to be at the top of our class, ahead of everyone else, striving to achieve perfection on each exam, and doing everything we can do to fill those unchecked boxes on our applications. At times, we can feel invincible as if there’s nothing we can’t do. We come up with excuses for flaws we do have but are afraid to reveal because they show a weakness that we instinctively believe might hinder our reputation or future career prospects. Losing the ability to be honest with ourselves about what we really want in our lives, in addition to studying medicine, can be a scary thing when our focus is narrowed purely on medicine.

Going back to what my doctor said that day, medical school really does rewire your brain in some unwritten fashion. Your supreme confidence coming in gets put in check through the trails of difficult exams, constant opportunities to be put in your place, and brutal evaluations by peers and professors. It’s not an easy thing to go through, given that the success we’ve all tasted getting here. You’re stressed out, sleep-deprived, and sometimes dealing with imposter syndrome while being surrounded by other stressed-out individuals with similar neurotic personalities. Although, throughout, it seems a transformation occurs. You become a little more disciplined, self-aware, humble, and unknowingly push your limits of sustained academic effort. Some of it, I think, is for good reason given the challenges, high expectations, and breadth of knowledge in the profession of medicine. However, it is very easy to get caught up in this conveyer belt and lose sight of what made you who you are in the first place.

It’s not a new notion that highly-driven people will go to great lengths to achieve success. One classmate went to the length of apologizing to the professor for not attending a lecture that was not required. Another time I was in a small group where classmates were appalled and emotionally distraught after missing two points on a quiz that was for extra credit. I realize it’s not a terrible thing to have the drive and motivation to do the best you can, especially when training to be one of the leaders of healthcare in this country. I also realize that jumping through hoops, pleasing people, and doing things you may not want to do is part of the game all the way through residency, but at what point might you morph into the type of individual you never wanted to be in the first place? At one point, some of us may come to the realization that it’s OK not to know everything. It’s OK not to be perfect. It’s OK to take some time off for your mental health and pursue your hobbies with friends and relatives. It seems we all need to be reminded at some point to take it easy during our marathon battle with medical school and remember who we once were and what we wanted to get out of this before we got carried away in the whirlwind of medicine.

I think personally, one of my fears while going through medical school is becoming disconnected from the general population, losing the ability to understand them, and put myself in their shoes. I say this because I am slowly realizing that the medical field is, in a way, a world of its own. I think medical school serves its general purpose in putting a student into a good position to become a well-trained physician. However, I think ultimately, there is an underlying purpose behind it help you learn about yourself and who you are, what type of people you want to be surrounded by, and what you want to accomplish in this world.

So, no matter where you are on this road to becoming a practicing physician or if you’re a physician already, I think it’s important to stop and realize how far you’ve come. You got into college; you got into medical school; you worked through residency. You got a great grade on that one test and a poor grade on the other test. You get celebrated for one thing, shamed for another. It’s OK. Regardless, as my doctor said, no matter what happens, remember who you are, and stay true to yourself.

Alexandru Bucura is a medical student.

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