Learning to be Human

Everyone talked about how difficult medical school was going to be. I always knew it would be hard. But nobody told me it was going to have me sitting on my couch for hours in a dark living room. I sat there feeling sorry for myself, wondering where I went wrong. How could I have let myself fail my first midterm exam?

Keep in mind, this is no exaggeration. I literally finished my exam, walked to my apartment, set my backpack down on the floor, and felt the weight of my entire body sink onto this couch. My thoughts were racing, and yet I had no words. My phone was flooded with calls and messages asking how my exam went, but I ignored the constant buzzing. What could I even say? What do I tell my family and friends? Four weeks ago, my enthusiasm for how I would soon be a doctor put a smile on everyone’s face. I received nothing but love and encouragement. How do I look them in the eye a month later and say that I didn’t study hard enough?

Surely I got the memo that medical school entailed hours of studying, so why didn’t I put in the time? I knew I wasn’t trying my best. I saw all of the warning signs, like when I couldn’t answer my friends’ questions about a certain nerve or catch onto some cheesy anatomy joke (believe me, there are plenty). Still, I was not worried.

Sitting on that couch, I created ridiculous excuses. I blamed the long lines at Walmart and Target for taking up my study time. I blamed my lack of energy on early morning lectures. The truth is, I went grocery shopping about once a week and slept late pretty much every night. My poor performance on the midterm came down to a lack of discipline. In college, you can get away with wasting time and cramming the night before the exam. In medical school, you study weeks in advance. The week before an exam, laundry, cooking, and cleaning become missed opportunities to glance over study questions. Medical school takes a lot of dedication, and I wasn’t ready for that. I had nobody to blame but myself, and that was a tough pill to swallow.

So why did I decide to tell this story about what a terrible medical student I was? Like most things in life, there is a bright side.

I had read medical student blogs before, but I found little comfort in reading on the amazing experiences of those who, unlike me, had achieved a perfect balance between school and everything else. I felt the need to share my experience for those of us who need a reminder that failure is part of life, and that it is not the end of the world.

My week 4 breakdown had me doubting whether I even belonged in medical school. What if I had just been incredibly lucky, and my application had somehow been misplaced into the “Accepted” pile? Maybe my brain couldn’t learn fast enough, or surely there was a limit to how much I could learn, and I had probably reached that limit by the end of week 1.

None of this was true.

How did I overcome this? I gave myself room to be human. I learned to accept failure and realized that while it may be a part of you, it does not define you. Admitting that I was flawed was the first step towards loving myself. I then began to rebuild my life around anything that made me smile. Galveston has gorgeous sunsets, delicious brunch menus (I am secretly obsessed with Sunflower Café here on the island), and of course, the nicest and brightest medical students you will ever meet! Late afternoon walks to the library and lots of brunch dates have become part of my routine. When being a medical student becomes too tiring, I find peace in the warm orange rays of the setting sun peeking between hospitals and research buildings. Taking the extra time to relax has had a profound impact on my attitude. Instead of feeling forced to study, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be a medical student. I also make time to try new things. I am currently teaching myself how to cook (stay tuned).

It turns out there is a term for what I was doing: self-compassion. As fate would have it, my second Physician Healer Track session was on self-compassion. For this session, we learned about how we blame ourselves and others and how this can affect our level of self-compassion. Before this whole experience, my self-compassion was low. When it came to failure, I forgot how to be understanding, patient and forgiving with myself. This took a toll on my self-esteem. To fight this feeling, I placed blame on everyone else but me.

Completing the self-compassion session really brought this whole experience together. The most inspiring thing I learned is to accept that I am human. For me, the realization that I am human and prone to being imperfect was a sigh of relief. Self-compassion taught me that it is okay to fail. It taught me to acknowledge and even embrace my vulnerabilities, and by doing so, I could be honest with myself and others. It allowed me to share this very personal story and turn it into a learning experience. Practicing self-compassion changed my life, and I am confident that as my time at UTMB goes on, I will continue to apply it in everything I do.

-Luis

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photo from: http://www.etxe.co/blog/love-themed-desktop-backgrounds

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