Welcome back to the Scenic Route to MD. My apologies for the late posting. This one was a bit of a doozy to write so please forgive me. I suck. But hey, based on the title of today’s post I guess that’s okay!
I feel so fraudulent giving myself a title. Of anything really. An athlete, a writer, a future physician. Since we were young the notion of “if you want to be something then you better try to be the best at it” was engrained in our brains.
Maybe this came from a lifetime of competitive sports? I’m sure we’ve all dealt with these feelings, instilled upon us from those who just wanted the best for us in life. Who wanted us to push and reach for our true potential. Whatever that means.
Work hard and you can be the best. Failure is not an option.
So here we are, once a praised generation of gifted youth with the world at our fingertips, now littered with insecurities and feelings of inadequacies.
Imposters in our own existence.
Branded by the word average in so many facets of life.
Why wasn’t my advanced reading level or IB curriculum helping me learn how to deal with these feelings? Why weren’t my years of intensive summer basketball camp experience showing me what to do in this situation?
And so, in realizing how average I am as an adult, I have a hard time calling myself anything.
Why would I call myself a runner? I’m not that fast. My technique is probably all wrong. I sure don’t have the body of a runner. I am not the best, therefore I am not a runner.
A writer? I mean sure I can string a few sentences together but often the thoughts in my brain can’t seem to translate properly to words. I do love a good cliff-hanger ending, but there’s absolutely no way I’ve mastered the craft. Therefore, I can’t possibly be a writer.
A hiker? I’ve gotten to go on some pretty cool adventures, but I still get tired at the end of a steep summit. I haven’t explored many places outside of Canada. I am not a professional peak bagger; therefore, I am not a real hiker.
I’m finishing up my second year of medical school and every single morning I wake up and wonder if everyone has figured out what a fraud I am yet. That the jig is up, and I somehow fluked my way to get to this point.
I am not the smartest or the most clever. I get red-faced when I’m nervous and fumble my words when I’m excited about something. I doubt myself even when I KNOW I know the answer to something. I don’t have any publications or connections to score a great residency. I am not the best at any of these things, therefore how can I possibly be a good physician.
Why is it then, especially in the field of medicine, that we put so much value into what these titles are. We ARE medical students. We ARE residents. We ARE surgeons. It becomes our entire personalities, even if we try to be aware of it.
You Suck (And That’s Okay)
Our fragile definition of worth slowly takes shape from our exam scores, our patient encounters, and our feedback. We take that one grade, that one less-than-constructive critique, or that one awkward moment and turn it into an n=1 outcome of what the rest of our career will be like.
I failed one test, therefore I will make a terrible physician. I said the wrong thing while presenting a patient and everyone thinks I’m an idiot. I broke the sterile field, better go home now.
The list goes on.
I’m not sure where we went wrong in thinking that average was an insult, or that perfection was EVER going to be attainable. That to make one mistake was detrimental to life success. That failure was truly a fate worse than death. Or that to truly enjoy something we had to automatically be professionally skilled at it.
How many times have you started something new and quickly cast it aside because you were no good at it. I know I have.
Coming into a new venture with the hopes that you would instantly master a skill, only to feel bad because you sucked.
How quickly we forget that these things take time. That the reason WHY those we look up to are so skilled at xyz is because of the time, patience, and perseverance they have put into their craft.
Often, we only see the highlight reel of someone’s success. The big games, the podium finishes, or the degrees on the wall.
I’m not sure if we intentionally hide the hard parts. The sad parts. The shitty parts. The parts where we feel so insecure with our life choices that it seems like nothing will ever work out. Or if we subconsciously leave those out so others don’t feel sorry for us or write us off.
But guess what. Everyone sucks. Everyone has to start from the beginning. And believe it or not, everyone fails at things at some point or another.
So here’s a little behind the scenes look at what being a medical student is really like. It took me forever to put the words together while writing this. I keep having these waves of sadness rush up as I type. But at the same time, it feels oddly therapeutic to put it into words.
To kind of continue on from the last post, I passed all 3 of my shelf exams. I was equal parts surprised and excited about it.
I just had one more to go. One more before I was done with Basic Sciences forever. I gave it my all (which granted there probably wasn’t much left in the tank) but unfortunately:
I failed my comprehensive exam this summer.
I felt (feel) heartbroken about it, and it took me a long time to feel up to even talking about it.
If you say it out loud, it makes it real. You’re a failure.
It sucks, I DID feel like a failure. How can I possibly think I can be successful in this career if I can’t even pass a stupid standardized exam? I obviously don’t deserve to be in med school. Insert every other possible imposter syndrome inner dialogue here. You name it, I felt it.
I’m trying so hard to put things into perspective. Didn’t you have to uproot your life and move to an island extremely far from home during a pandemic? And didn’t you get Covid almost immediately upon getting to said island? AND. Didn’t you spend a large chunk of your study time making up missed exams and assignments from when you were sick?
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about you can catch up on the last entry HERE. )
I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, at the end of the day this is all on me. But, near the end of the semester I felt like a cat wondering if I was about to finally run out of my last life. The burnout was REAL.
And apparently there is a limit to how many times you can say “I just have to make it through this week” before you in fact, cannot make it through another week.
The one thing that makes me feel a TINY bit less alone through this is knowing I am not the only one in this boat. In fact, I’d say a laaarge percentage of my class is going through what I am going through right now.
Does it make me feel any better? No, I wish that everyone could do well and succeed. I wish we all had some magic Harry Potter study guide that could help us pass and move on to clinicals together.
Unfortunately, now before I can sit for my board exam and start rotations I have to rewrite this comprehensive exam. In the grand scheme of things this exam doesn’t mean much on paper other than to show the school that you are ready to write boards. (An insurance policy for their bottom line if you will).
I am hoping when I rewrite in December I can nail it and be back on track to write Step 1 and get my rotations under way.
Even though it seems like the end of the world right now, at the end of the day, adding a few months onto training isn’t going to hurt me.
We spend years and years in undergrad, med school and residency to get to the end goal so looking at the big picture: I will be fine.
I clearly wasn’t in the right headspace when writing this exam and wouldn’t have been ready to write boards right away. So, I’m trying to take these quiet extra study months as a gift to slow down, regroup and really understand the content vs. just memorize the material.
No one likes to talk about their shortcomings. When I first started this blog, I promised myself I would be as honest and vulnerable with my experience as possible.
No one needs another medical school flowers and sunshine brochure blog. We have enough of those.
Talking about the exciting moments are great and make me so happy to be following this career path, but what am I going to do? Pretend I passed something when I didn’t and lie about my whole experience? No thanks.
So here you go. The sad, sniffly, shitty bits of med school. A full package deal.
One moment and one exam won’t define your life. The aesthetic highlights are fun to look back at, but the real work is done during the moments between. And sometimes it’s okay to suck. It’s okay to fail. You don’t have to be the best at anything, and average is not a devil word.
So get out there, and as my friend Lauren says, “embrace the suck!”
Have a great Thursday.