The turn of the decade and new year 2020 meant a lot to me this time around. 2020 will be a year filled with change – I am turning 21, graduating from college, and starting medical school. The latter has left me feeling anxious and fearful recently. While I have little-to-no doubt that I want to treat patients’ ailments and work in teams to solve medical problems, I still have a fear of the unknown. Friends and mentors alike have shared horror stories with me about the long grueling hours of the job and the necessity of developing new methods to learn high volumes of material. Their anecdotes make me wonder if I am ready, or have the endurance, to thrive in such a challenging setting.
Talking to peers and people who have been in my shoes, this seems to be a common worry. Luckily, I’ve been able to quell my worries and reaffirm my confidence in succeeding in medical school. ‘How?’ you may ask. Well, keep reading.
Shadow Physicians in Different Specialties
Shadowing is a wonderful way to gain an inside look into what being a physician is like. Between private practice and public hospitals, neurosurgery and pediatrics, there are a plethora of spaces and specialties to observe, each of which provides a different perspective. When I saw babies being delivered or abdominal tumors being removed, I was reminded of how powerful the ultimate goal in medicine is, despite how challenging the process may be. When I witnessed teams in every specialty come together to devise treatment plans for critical patients and execute them in synchrony, I felt inspired to put in all the work possible once medical school starts so that I could fill those shoes one day.
Shadowing in a variety of specialties also exposed me to new clinical trials and research projects going on. From stem cell work to nanomedicine-based projects, I saw firsthand how many exciting medical improvements would be established by the time I would be a physician.
These first-hand observations were the primary sources I needed to feel inspired to overcome some of the fears about the journey. Even though it might be challenging, the end goal would unequivocally be an enjoyable and avant-garde career.
Engage in Patient Care and Interaction
Watching medical professionals succeed at their jobs provided an important piece of insight, but there was still a disconnect regarding whether I would be able to interact with patients and proficiently perform. I found an opportunity to directly engage with patients through emergency medical services (EMS). After taking a rigorous training certification course and exam, I became an EMT and volunteered on my local rescue squad and helped teach the class at my college campus!
Over time, I developed a comfort level in interacting with patients. Conversing with them and detecting the nature of illness or mechanism of injury during some of the stressful moments of their lives was something I looked forward to. Those conversations led me to the next steps for treatment and transport. Feedback from my duty and crew chiefs helped me improve at this, and I gained confidence in my potential to become a strong clinician. Responding to emergency calls also gave me a taste of the accountability and required of physicians. Plus, I found that I really enjoyed the fast-paced nature of medicine.
Reflect on Other Fearful Turning Points
Even though the transition into medical school is definitely a new one, I found comfort in reflecting on all of the other challenging academic transitions that I have faced in my life. The most recent transition was from high school to college, but I also underwent one from middle school to high school and before that. At each of those transitions, I felt anxious and uncertain that my work ethic and academic ability would be enough. But I made it through each one.
At my university, I worked a job that allowed me to speak to prospective students and their families. I was able to provide some perspective regarding how nervous I was as a high school senior. I was able to communicate that adapting to college was not necessarily smooth, but I always sought out help whenever I needed it and changed my study habits to succeed. Being in a position where I could verbally reflect on how much I grew from high school to college served as a powerful reminder that I have the capacity to successfully adapt in the year to come.
I don’t think that the fear of something as intimidating as medical school ever goes away until it is over. But observing how much there is to be excited about down the road, gaining some real-life clinical skills, and remembering that I’ve overcome difficult transitions in the past before (in conjunction with a strong inkling that medicine is what I was meant to do) has helped me focus more on the smiles and less on the fears ahead.