Ever since I was young, I excelled in school. And it seemed that the more I was praised for being “above average,” the better I got. As and Bs were great in middle school, but by the end of 8th grade, only A+’s would do. In high school, I studied and somehow ended up as the valedictorian of my class of over 600 students. I never really meant to do that. I just worked hard. I enjoyed school. And it worked out.
In college, I had the same sort of ride. I wasn’t the kid who never studied and breezed through every subject, but when I worked hard and put my mind to something, I ended up doing well. And somewhere along the line, it became part of my identity.
I don’t know if it was when friends started asking me for help explaining a difficult concept. Maybe it was when my parents stopped freaking out when I got straight A’s because it became a sort of “normal” for me. And I liked doing well. But as it became more of a WHO I am, not just WHAT I do, it went from a happy outcome of hard work and a love of learning to a real need to do well. And not just because I wanted to do well, but because I knew it was what people expected.
This fear of letting down the world, in the form of my friends and my family, started to plague me throughout college. I lived in constant fear of when THE MOMENT would come…the one where my luck ran out and my hard work just wouldn’t cut it. I kept waiting, expecting, fearing…but I kept doing well.
I graduated with a 4.0 GPA in a Bachelors of Science in Biology from college. I did well on my MCAT and was accepted on my first application attempt into medical school. I even received a small annual scholarship, which was a huge honor. During my first year of medical school, I received Honors in nearly all subjects on my exams. I was elected to a leadership position in student government, and I started to think that maybe THE MOMENT was just a dark cloud in my head. Maybe that ominous time would never come.
The second year of medical school arrived.
No matter how much I worked, how many hours I put in, how much I cared and lived and breathed what I was learning, I couldn’t make it make sense. It never “clicked” like everything always had before. I was learning in leaps and bounds, sure. But it wasn’t enough. My grades started falling. I did not make honors on a single exam my entire second year of medical school.
And I was devastated. I struggled with depression. I lost touch with numerous friends, as my husband changed jobs and we acquired a new dog, a rescue, on top of all of my anxiety about how to juggle all of the knowledge I was meant to acquire in my second year of medical school.
I was not re-elected to the leadership position I had during my first year of school. However, I was chosen as the Secretary/Treasurer for an interest group, kind of like a surgery club, for the college of medicine. I tried to appreciate these minor victories, to be proud of what I was accomplishing with my hard work in class, and to cherish the other positives I had in my life, like my family and my friends and my home. But the heavens had opened up, and my life was in the middle of a crazy storm of doubt, confusion, and total frustration with THE MOMENT.
I felt like a fraud. I went to one of the deans of the College of Medicine to ask for advice on how to prepare for boards, and despite all positive signs during my studying, I missed my goal score for USMLE Step 1 by 16 points. Again, devastation. Again, trying to keep my head above the flood of emotion because all was finally revealed…I am not that special, not that smart, not that capable. I am not even quite average in this world of high-achieving, career-minded individuals that is Medical School.
WHO AM I NOW?
This is a question that I continue to struggle with as I am entering my clinical years of medical school.
I am no longer the top of my class.
I am not the leader of the pack.
I am adequate.
The doubts that have taken serious root in my soul from my second year of medical school and my acceptable, but not stellar, performance on Step 1 of my medical boards creep up on me whenever I knock on the door to go in and see a patient. They sneak into the back of my mind while I am studying cases or reading a medical article. They question whether I am fit to be A PHYSICIAN…the person that people depend on at their weakest, at their lowest points in life, the person that makes the life and death decisions, that yields their knowledge and their skill in order to make the world a better, healthier, safer place.
And somewhere deep within me, the voice of my soul screams out…YES. It is what I was made to do. It is in my heartbeat. It is in the tears that well up when I talk to a patient about their fears and struggles and desires for a better life. It is in the steady hand when I go to administer a shot or remove stitches from a healing wound. It is in the smile that lights up my face when I look back on a day spent caring for others, for their bodies, but also for their minds and their souls.
I AM A PHYSICIAN.
And I will fight every uphill battle to make it to my goal. I will not let fear or doubt or mere adequacy deter me from the life I was made to live. I may not have the most glowing CV or the highest test scores, but I work hard. I have learned so much. And I care. I really, truly, deeply care about every person I have the privilege to call my patient.
So even though THE MOMENT still haunts me at times, I can turn the light back on in my spirit by reminding myself of these truths. I was made to be a doctor. I am capable and knowledgeable. I am imperfect and still learning. And I have been given the amazing gift of using all that I know, all that I can do, all of my self, to take care of the sick and the injured.
I am blessed.
I am a physician.