Long Time, No Write
“Long time no write” seems to be the introductory phrase to more and more of these posts lately. I wish I could be more consistent with writing but alas, I am no influencer, and while writing has been an extremely therapeutic stress reliever, it unfortunately has had to take a backseat more often as of late.
That being said: hey! I am on a bit of a Christmas break, so it seemed like the perfect time for a ‘Year in Review.’ I wish I had more exciting adventures to write about and reminisce on in 2022. Unfortunately, the last few months have been quite mundane as I prepared to rewrite my comprehensive exam in early December. If you haven’t had a chance to read about that experience, you can find it here.
The months between finding out I was unsuccessful in my first exam attempt and rewriting consisted of a lot of repetition. Review videos, flashcards, practice questions, self-loathing, and the daily existential crisis of wondering if I was sure I wanted this as a career.
I felt like I needed to remove my eyeballs and soak them in saline after day in and out of staring at a computer screen all day. While I’m sure writing would have been a nice brain break throughout all of this, the thought of staring at a screen for even one second longer was absolutely out of the question.
Trying to find a decent balance between school and life was an ongoing battle, although with the clock winding down to weeks and then days (!!) until exam time, the balance was understandably a bit skewed.
I made a goal to myself this past autumn that I would try my hardest to lower my stress during this study period, as it was leeching out into my other relationships and daily life. It may seem like a small thing, but for those that know me, these little changes were a pretttty big deal:
I’ve only had one cup of coffee a day for the last three months (give or take a day or two). Yay me. Again, this is not a big deal if you’re a normal individual, but it appeared that I was having inhumane levels of caffeine to function everyday. Who knew?! (She says as everyone reading this shouts, ‘We knew!’)
I tried SO hard to get a solid sleep each night. I won’t say the textbook “eight hours” because who am I kidding, but it was enough to stave off turning into an insomniac zombie. I’m sure I’ll miss these days of scheduled sleep as I head into the clinical side of med school mountain.
I also made it a point to have a hard limit of when I would be done studying for the day. Sure, on paper saying you sat at your desk for 16 hours a day looks prestigious, but I wanted to try to get an effective 8 or so hours and call it quits to relax and decompress in the evenings. I believe the kids these days are calling it self-care?
I watched a new movie every night, tried to get some sort of movement in each day, and even started my new favorite geriatric hobby of cross-stitch.
The monotony of studying felt never ending but as the weeks went on, plus with the privilege of getting to study on my own schedule and terms (ironically enough, an incredible rarity at this level of education for some reason), I felt like I was maybe actually retaining things? Amazing. Maybe I had a chance at passing this.
The worst part of feeling like your life was turning into some made-for-tv remake of Groundhog Day was that even though you weren’t writing exams, having to practice clinical interviews, or waking up at 4:30am for class – the burnout was still very much tangible. It was mentally exhausting to repeat the days over and over again. At a certain point you would inevitably get bored and let your mind wander. Which was always a bit dangerous.
The ‘What If’ Game
So many thoughts crossed my mind during this period – what if I didn’t pass? Would I redo the summer months again? Have to move back to the island for even longer this time? Would I throw in the towel and find a new career? Nursing? Something else?
Did I even like what I was doing? Or had I put medicine on so much of a pedestal throughout the years that I felt like I had to follow through and enjoy it because I had made it my entire personality.
I know I’ve talked about feeling unsure about medicine before, but in 2022, I had never been LESS confident in my life choices leading me here. All the ‘what ifs’ started to creep up on a daily basis. What if I had stuck with nursing? I could have finally put some roots down, paid off my loans by now, had a LIFE. It sounded so wonderful. But as beautiful as it sounded, knowing myself, I’m sure I would have found something else to study or learn and somehow ended up exactly where I am now.
I wondered, for a second, if maybe it was good to feel a level of uncertainty going into my exam. Taking a bit of pressure off myself, letting the universe do it’s thing or whatever. I reached a point where I was too tired to stress myself out with the thought of pulling all-nighters for an exam in a field I wasn’t even sure I enjoyed anymore.
Read as: I had no more F’s to give.
I was lucky I had nursing to come back to, should it come to that. Or hey, I could always open that dream combo bakery / bookstore if the cards didn’t play out how I had hoped.
I tried to focus on things one step at a time. Don’t worry about what hasn’t happened yet Jessica. There is NO POINT.
As the time and motivation seemingly wasted away in sync, I had to redirect my brain to the next imminent stressor. Going to the island. God, this better be the last time I ever see this place.
So why, you ask, did we have to fly across the continent to a tiny rock in the ocean to write an exam that could have 100% been accessed at any run of the mill Prometric testing site? Excellent question. One I will most likely never have the answer to, like many things I have experienced along this particular path.
Once the outrageously pricey flights for the week were booked and accommodations were set in stone, there was nothing left to do but wait. But come on, that would be too simple of a story, now wouldn’t it?
Shortly before making the trek to the island, we were informed (thanks to some considerate friends on campus, not through any official capacity) that they would be changing the entire format of our exam. No big deal, not like we had been studying for 3 months in a way which would now be potentially useless. Countless hours of standardized practice exams etc. I knew it would still be helpful for future board exams, but it was incredibly stressful coming into the final days of studying and travel with absolutely no break down of the exam. How would it be graded? How many questions were even on it? And so on.
It’s fine. This was fine. I had to be confident in my brain abilities. I studied my ass off, and I just had to hope that it came through on test day.
Soon enough, my minimalistic carry-on and I reached the sunnier climates of stress and despair. I immediately headed to the apartment, feasted on ramen noodles and kit-kats brought from home, and made my plan for the week.
Thankfully, the next few days went by quickly.
Wake up, enjoy a perfectly rationed strawberry pop tart for breakfast, review videos, flashcards, kill a giant millipede on the bedroom wall, and do practice questions. Just your basic everyday tasks. Every other day I would make the seven-minute walk to a little café and order two ham sandwiches with fries, which would last me about two days worth of meals.
We were there for a short time, not a good time – I think that’s how the lyrics go right? Let’s just say this week was more about acing this exam, and less about getting my 7-10 servings of veggies in a day. There would be plenty of time for that when I got home. I couldn’t be bothered to blow an entire study day on taking a taxi to the grocery store on the other side of the island.
Exam time came and went in the blink of an eye. The exam itself wasn’t insanely difficult, although it wasn’t like any practice exam I had ever seen. Leaving the testing center I still felt a slight sense of dread. I know I got some right, but I also know I made some incredibly silly mistakes so who knows?
Next up was the waiting game. The worst part of any exam. The time where it felt like the Final Jeopardy jingle was constantly playing in the back of my mind. I was hopeful I would at least know before Christmas. That gave me about 2 weeks to stew about answers I should have known, and play more of the ‘What If’ game. Fun.
That night I enjoyed some pizza, cheesecake, and a beautiful island sunset. I was elated to not have to look at another sandwich for dinner and to have an entire day of relaxation before heading home.
Except. The relaxation was cut short. The next DAY while I was enjoying my final pop tart and leftover pizza, my phone started buzzing. ‘Have you checked your email???’
Email. The word alone still gives me an instant stress-sweat response.
Results were out.
EXCUSE ME? Today? Already? It was too soon! There was no way.
My hands were shaking – no, trembling while I refreshed my email. Oh god. There it was. ‘Comp Shelf Results’ in the subject header.
I was not mentally prepared for this yet. I pictured myself unpacked and at home already, with at least one festive drink on board for this moment. I hadn’t had time to think about how to feel with either direction of the email. Relief? Panic?
I clicked open the email.
‘We are writing to inform you that you Passed the Final Exam.’
Oh my god. This can’t be real? I reread it probably 100 times before I accepted that it was, in fact, real. I was going home and would never have to come back here again.
Queue the bawling. Happy tears, sad tears, confused tears because – I mean now I REALLY had to figure out if I still liked medicine.
2023 was about to get insane…