The First of Many No’s

Life as a second-year medical student (MS-2) has been just as busy, exciting, and exhausting as expected. Transitioning into organ blocks– learning medicine in the context of physiology, pathology, and disease process, as opposed to basic science courses– has been a relief for me, as I was never a huge fan of the monotony of basic science class structure. In other ways, however, second year has been difficult. There is this understanding that, along with learning disease comes the responsibility of learning for the purposes of truly knowing: what we learn now will be the knowledge we use to help and heal.

That’s a lot of pressure. But it is also incredibly exciting.

The joy that comes along with learning about the amazing human body, finding your niche in research and extracurriculars, and engaging with patients, is coupled with a sort of loss. The journey to and within medicine is truly about sacrifice. Within the last couple of weeks, I have heard med school peers lament about how their friends from home seem to all be moving forward with life, and that we are somewhat stuck.

Stuck in lecture. Stuck in the library. Stuck looking at all of the life everyone else is having through our computer and phone screens.

There is a heap of truth to this. Medical school is a major sacrifice, requiring hours, time, money, emotions, sleep… the list could go on. This weekend, I was reminded of my chosen sacrifice when I sat in the library, catching a glimpse of one of the most beautiful weddings ever, via FaceTime. My dear “aunt”, an incredible woman and anesthesiologist, found love and life in her new husband, an orthopedic surgeon. After more than 25 years of practice, she has continuously defined medical excellence, care for others, and strive for betterment. The summer before I started medical school, I was able to visit with her and her then fianc√©. I asked them, if they could go back and do anything different from their time in medical school, what would it be. She responded, I would have studied more.

This highly accomplished, brilliant, life-saving medical doctor thinks that there was even more to learn following her Columbia and Harvard education and training. More to have studied after all this time! While her husband thinks quite differently (we happened to both look at her in amazement, and he said the really?! that I was thinking), I know we can both appreciate what was really underneath her statement.

In medicine, you are a forever-student. Learning never ends, and it remains rigorous throughout your career. With that, there comes the acknowledgement that you will not be able to do everything you want to do, whenever you want to do it. Weekends free from work are not guaranteed, nights are long, and downtime is often spent wondering if there was some other work you should be doing. There will be many no’s. Many occasions you will miss and a number of declined invitations.

However, the reward is worth the disciplined time. All of those hours will translate into competency and creativity on the wards. As tired as I am, I look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel. That light isn’t a finish line to learning, but rather an attainment of the fervor for continued discovery. Someday I hope to fully embrace my aunty’s mindset. At this particular moment, I am knee-deep in flashcards. But at least laying on my couch to do them is something I can say yes to.