If you currently are in, have ever been in or have even just thought about going to medical school, I can almost guarantee that you have read at least one blog post titled “My Journey To Medical School”. Either that, or you’ve watched a YouTube video with that same title. I don’t know why, but the topic seems to be an immensely popular one on the internet. Maybe because so many people dream about going to medical school and the simple goal of getting into one becomes the sole focus – and posts like these can look like a way to crack the code.
Well, my “journey to medical school” is about as boring as it could get. I graduated from high school, took the entrance exam into the medical department at my local university, and with a mixture of hard work and good luck, I got in.
And that’s that, end of story, blog post over, right?
Wrong. Definitely wrong.
Getting into medical school was a huge milestone in my life, yes. It was one of my dreams coming true. But going through medical school, heck – living 6 years of your precious life as a “doctor in the making” – that’s where things get interesting.
Last June I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in medicine, meaning I am now halfway through medschool. 3 years down, 3 years to go. This time has been an amazing experience in so many ways. There have been moments when I’ve been on top of the world. There have been moments when I’ve asked myself why I even wanted this to begin with. And there have been countless “sure, I’ll just keep swimming”-moments.
Here are a few of the most important things I’ve learned so far and some pointers I wish someone had given me three years ago. As I continue my journey through medical school, starting my 4th year there tomorrow morning, I look forward to adding to this list.
It’s Not All Like What You Imagined It To Be
- Your first weeks or even months of medical school can be lonely and confusing, especially if it’s also your first time at that university. Your life might be totally different from what you imagined it to be, once your dream of getting into medschool comes true. Don’t lose heart, focus on your studies but please do also put yourself out there and try to get to know some people. I can’t imagine going through something as mentally and often physically demanding as medical school without my besties by my side. Going it alone seems an impossible task, once you’ve met some true friends.
- There will be days when you don’t even like medschool, let alone love it. That doesn’t mean medicine isn’t “for you”. It just means you’re human. We all have bad days.
Grades and Exams Don’t Tell Half The Story
- Many of the best doctors you’ll meet failed some of their exams in medical school. It doesn’t look any fun, but it’s also not the end of the world. I’ve never failed an exam, but I’ve come close once or twice. I’ve also aced some exams, and some of my grades are mediocre. And all of this is ok. As long as you know what you are doing or ask your colleagues for advice when in doubt, none of your exams or grades will define the doctor you can be for future patients. Your heart will. (Although, pretty please don’t tell your professors I told you that. They might contact mine and I’ll be a dead woman walking!)
- Medical school can get competitive sometimes – do anything you need to do to resist the urge of taking part in that competition. It can’t be won and all it does is push away your current or potential friends and future colleagues. Comparison isn’t only the thief of joy, it’s the thief of everything. In the words of Brené Brown: “Stay in your own lane!”
- And since we’re on the topics of grades – don’t sweat a bad one. One thing you can be sure of in medschool, is that there will always be another exam after this one!
Medical School is Long For a Good Reason
- There’s a reason medical school takes this long. I used to think the time it takes to become a doctor was just to give the university and hospital enough time to stuff my head full of all the necessary knowledge and yes, there is without a doubt a shitload of things you need to learn by heart. But more importantly, those years give you time to experience life on your own skin – something you need if you are to become a human who walks with other humans in their darkest, most fearful hours.
- I am most definitely not the same person I was 3 years ago, when I started medical school. Since then, I have looked a terminally ill man in the eye and felt utterly helpless. I have watched a scared-to-death woman go into C-section, then shared a cry of joy with her an hour later, seeing her hold her baby for the first time. I’ve been in love, I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve loved again. I’ve had the sad honor of carrying a loved one to her grave and watched as another one battles manic depression.
- In short, life changes you during the years it takes to become a doctor. With every experience you have the chance to become a more compassionate human being. And that is a very good thing for a doctor be.
This and That – Some Random #Medlife Lessons
- Google is your friend, as long as you google with some knowledge and common sense. Just try not to do it in front of your patients!
- You can study all the communication techniques in the world – but walking into a patient’s room by yourself for the first time will still get your heart going a million beats a minute.
- Sometimes it’s better to go to sleep and show up well rested in the morning, than to stay up late studying. (One of my lifelong struggles!)
- At some point, a professor or a doctor will ask you a question and you won’t know the answer to it. It might be in front of a patient, your classmates or someone you look up to. You may feel humiliated and he or she may even feel like making a scene out of it. It’s not fun but it’s just life – you will live and it happens to everybody. Nobody can know everything. Stay humble.
- And finally – never, ever make the mistake of approaching a crying kid in your white coat, thinking you can comfort it. You can’t. For all I know you might be the world’s best baby whisperer outside the hospital, but once you’re in that white coat, those superpowers are a gonner!
-xoxo, Lady Reykjavík.