COVID-19 made me realize that I’m not ready to die to be a doctor

My last block of medical school was supposed to be the best part of the past four years. I carefully crafted a four-week vacation from school, designed for searching for the perfect place to live during my emergency medicine residency while spending valuable time connecting with classmates I might never see again. I could never imagine my current reality of moving back into my childhood bedroom and hiding from imminent invisible danger. Nothing could have prepared me for moving through day after day like a zombie, only capable of feeling fear of illness and death, as well as grief for the loss of my normal life.

I was born and raised in New York City in the 90s and 2000s, and I grew up hearing the stories of regular people who became heroes in every way on September 11th, 2001. This tragedy shaped my childhood in so many ways, and I believe it played at least a small role in my motivation to become a doctor. I always thought I would be the person to run straight into danger when everyone else is running away. I believed I had the strength to do whatever it takes to be a doctor.

It was a tough day when I realized I’m not the person I thought I was. Instead of looking forward to residency with eager anticipation for my chance to help people, I find myself filled with fear, dread, and second thoughts. Every day there is overwhelming guilt and shame because every fiber of my being wants to run away from my dreams and never look back. My family, friends, and even complete strangers are so proud and excited for me to earn my degree, and some have even thanked me for my service when they learn I’m about to start my first physician job. I’m too embarrassed to tell them that I’ve done nothing to help in this crisis and to admit that I don’t know if I’ll be ready to do my duty when the time comes.

Every day on TV and social media, I’m watching doctors much smarter and much more experienced than me putting themselves in danger, working harder than they possibly can, breaking down, begging for help, living in their cars, getting sick, and dying. I always thought I would be one of them, with the bravery and strength to do whatever it takes to help another. It never crossed my mind that I needed to be ready to die to be a doctor, and I’m not ready.

The author is an anonymous medical student.

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