Amongst the many (questionable) habits that medical school has imparted on me is the need to have everything done at 2x speed: lectures, Netflix, miscellaneous YouTube videos, stilted conversations that make me question my own awkwardness. It only makes sense, then, that my summer was focused on cultivating the self-awareness to remain in the moment and take things in at .5x speed. I’ve had many conversations since the summer about what, exactly, my summer consisted of – so much so that I think I am becoming a public relations representative for the Physician Healer Track (spoiler alert: that’s what I did with my summer). Yet, in many ways, much of my growth this summer was intangible, and at times, even ephemeral.
My classic answer to why I chose medicine is that it marries my love of applied biomedical science with the ability to connect intimately with people in a way that directly impacts their quality of life. That answer is starting to feel slightly scripted now, but it still holds as true as ever. The more winded answer, though, is that the physician-patient relationship allows me the privilege of assuaging the fear and anxiety that often surrounds patients’ healthcare experiences both emotionally and diagnostically. Yet, those emotional skills are not found anywhere in the medical school curriculum, and are at best mentioned in our practice of medicine course in a way that aims for thoughtfulness, but achieves awkwardness and cursory answers. Kind of like drinking a steaming cup of coffee and then discovering that it’s decaffeinated. The worst.
And yet, one of the biggest vulnerabilities and fears that I have for my career is the fear of burning out; I am wary about my ability to emotionally provide my patients the empathy, human connection, and emotional care that they deserve while maintaining the tenderness in my heart. The biggest gift that I gained from my summer with the Physician Healer Track is that it eased those fears by helping me build the skills necessary to hold the space for my patients’ suffering, with the trust that I will always have enough love to give both myself and the people in my heart. Honestly, the summer did not completely vanquish those fears. Rather, it helped me build a strong foundation that I can trust to fall back upon when I feel weary, small, or heavy. And in some ways, that is even more powerful; for setting the goal to live with the absence of fear seems both futile and emotionally stunting. But the building blocks that I create for myself, even when that growth is distinctly uncomfortable, are investments in my happiness that I can trust to catch me should I fall.
To achieve this, my summer was filled with a third of clinical psychiatry shadowing, a third of hipster activities like yoga and meditation, and a third healthy dose of emotional trauma – but you know, the good kind of emotional trauma that builds character. In all seriousness, the physician healer course aimed to introduce us to different paths of self-care that builds strength and self-awareness, including meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and yoga. For, it is difficult to cultivate empathy for my patients if I have been neglecting my own needs. And with that established, the track taught us different techniques to truly listen and hold the space for our patients, such as motivational interviewing skills, hospice and grief training, and perhaps the most powerful, exposure to breaking bad news to patients. The clinical experience, then, served simultaneously to expose us to our field of interest while providing an avenue for us to apply the skills we were learning to real patient interactions.
There were parts of my summer that made my heart splinter and ache, but a significant part of my growth was learning to piece those broken pieces together so that the seams that healed my heart made it even stronger. And in doing so, it gave me the trust that even if I feel heaviness and emotional hurt, I can walk the path of suffering with my future patients without losing myself. I learned that essential to that goal is having the strength to reach out to people who love me and learning to lean on them without fear of being a burden. I cannot promise my future patients that I will never falter, but I can vow to always honor their trust in me by sharing myself, and my own vulnerabilities with them. Growth is often distinctly uncomfortable, the skin-crawling, gut-wrenching kind of discomfort; but it is a privilege and a gift to have an entire summer dedicated to enhance my character and my ability to provide empathetic care to my patients. And who knows, maybe one of these days, I will stop instinctively searching for the 2x speed button on Netflix and learn to live presently for both my patients and myself.