Medical school interview season is upon us, and you know what that means: campus becomes saturated with the smell of nervous interviewees with trepidation and innocence pouring out of their pores. They’re cute, really.
Just kidding – medical school hasn’t made me into a jaded scrooge quite yet. In all seriousness, being part of the Honors Ambassador program at UTMB has given me the opportunity to share my love of UTMB and my medical school experience with a number of interviewees. From attending our Night Before Social with the interviewees to hosting interviewees in my home for a night, it has been a blast helping guide future possible UTMB students. Inevitably, the question I get asked by every interviewee is: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself a year ago?
There is so much I would share with past-Natti that comes to mind, from prioritizing self-care to maintaining a disciplined schedule to learning how to parallel park. But I think the most meaningful one is perhaps the simplest and most prosaic: I would encourage myself to get out of my comfort zone and seek out meaningful connections and friends.
For, medical school will demand much from you. Certainly, it has forced me to become the most academically disciplined version of myself, simply out of sheer desperation. It has made me honest-to-goodness marvel at the amount of information I have shoved (brutally) into my brain within the past year. It has reaffirmed in me that I made the right decision taking on this journey. The things that I’m learning fascinate me, and the evenings that I spend volunteering at St. Vincent’s, our free student run clinic, just feel…right. I feel fulfilled knowing that I am making a difference in my patient’s quality of life. I feel fulfilled drawing a smile from my patient when I rest my hand on her shoulder during a painful procedure. I feel fulfilled knowing that my patients trust me with both their pain and their hope.
But it has also permeated my life with moments (at times, even stretches) of inadequacy and self-doubt. I never realized before medical school how much I conflated my sense of self with my ability to succeed in school. I would venture that most students in professional schools would find themselves in the same predicament. It was never salient to me that getting good grades was something I had just subsumed into my identity. I don’t mean to sound horrendously obnoxious – success has never come easily and was always the product of hard work. But that doesn’t change that it was a constant for myself. Well, unfortunately, when you’re plunged into a field in which everyone is brilliant and hard working, feelings of inadequacy inevitably creep up and make you feel both small and confused.
What I’ve found to be most precious and irreplaceable are the people that I have discovered in medical school. Amongst all of the self-doubt and discouragement, the people in my life provide me with the love and acceptance that are so necessary to being healthy in medical school. My friends have served as beautiful reminders of the kind of physician I want to be. Sometimes, when you’re inundated with the same process of studying each and every day, it can be easy to lose sight of the things that are important to you.
It is easy to forget that life is a constant journey of shaping the person you want to become.
My best friends are both my solace when I feel vulnerable and bare, and my celebration partners when I’m overcome with joy. More than that, I feel blessed to be surrounded by friends that I believe in, friends who I think the world of, friends that I thoroughly admire. I feel blessed to have people in my heart that inspire me to emulate their conviction of their life’s mission, their warmth, their passion to learn and unearth the truth, and their generous hearts.
These relationships, they have nurtured who I am throughout all of medical school. I would venture that most incoming medical students find working hard to be a fairly natural endeavor, but they may find nurturing their emotional health and achieving the work-life balance to be a more troublesome task. And so, I would encourage every incoming medical student to intentionally (and aggressively) pursue those friendships.
Say yes to as many things as you can when you’re first meeting people (but also, drugs are bad for you). Cast a wide net. Pursue friendships in a way you may never have even pursue your lovers. Actually follow-up on the perfunctory, “Hey we should hang out sometime.” I will be honest and say that I aggressively coffee-dated when I first got to medical school. I can guarantee that the baristas at Mod Coffeehouse thought I was an addict (and they weren’t wrong). For me, there is no better way to explore all of who someone is than an hour (or hours) long conversation over the smell of fragrant coffee. Whatever you choose to do to unearth intimacy in conversations and relationships, I encourage you to do so with passion in the first couple months of medical school. For at that time, everyone is searching for the same sense of familiarity, security, and belonging. And it is likely that you are that friend for someone you have yet to find.