My list of “things I wish I knew before starting med school” includes both the mundane tasks of removing ketchup stains from a white coat and the deeper issues like dealing with loneliness and homesickness. One unexpected item that landed on my list was how to remember my motivation.
There is no way to sugar coat the fact that med school is a lot of work. There are countless long and isolating hours spent learning and reviewing material. In between keeping up with lectures, trying to prepare a nutritious meal, and pretending to exercise, you sometimes get so caught up in surviving the semester that you forget why you are actually here in the first place. Gradually, you find yourself viewing school as a burden and complaining of all the things you have to finish tonight: notes, quizzes, physical exam preparations. This can lead to a state of discontent and unproductivity, cue hours of wasted time with cat videos.
About half way through the semester, Dr. Tran called us in to have one-on-one meetings about how we are doing in his discussion sessions. These meetings are a routine part of our classes, where our instructors give us a progress report on how we are doing and what we can do to improve. I didn’t think much of it until I was sitting face to face with him. After a brief hello, he asked “Ok, so what do you want to do?” Hmm. I hadn’t thought about that for a while. But wasn’t it obvious? I hesitated and said, “Well, I want to be a doctor?”
“Well of course. And that will happen. But what are you doing after that?”
It was strange to be faced with this question, forcing me to think back to all the reasons why I wanted to become a doctor. Every medical student has different end goals and motivations–what is mine? The answer came quickly. Samia. I was here for Samia, and all the girls like her.
Samia is an 8-year-old refugee orphan I met while on a humanitarian trip to Jordan with Helping Hand, a non-profit organization. I met her at a summer camp. Our goal that day was to just play with refugee kids, helping them forget their troubled pasts. Samia quickly latched onto me, announcing that we would play games together all day. We started with freezetag (and lost quickly, much to Samia’s disappointment) and then made up a remix of ring-around-the-rosie. We would spin in a circle, count to 5 and then plop down. She was hooked and we played so many rounds that my head spun and my thighs were sore for the next week. We had to leave after a few hours, but I had just enough time to teach Samia the “go coogs” hand sign of my alma matter and take a photo.
Dr. Tran’s question made me think back to Samia and the other families I met on that trip. It was surreal to hear about the trauma that these children had faced, and then to see nothing but smiles on their faces and their eagerness to find joy in anyway. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for all the blessings and safety I took for granted back home. I wanted so badly to do more for the families that I met, but my lack of training was both limiting and frustrating. I left Jordan waiting for the day that I could bring a positive change to those families. I know that through medicine, I can do exactly that.
Framing the situation in that way, I quietly regret every moment that I spent complaining about having to study or take notes. To be on the path of higher education, whether it is at medical school, a university or high school, is a privilege and should be treated and respected as such. It is not something that is accessible for many around the world, which is all the more reason for us to strive to use our education to benefit others.
Even though this picture of Samia and I isn’t the most flattering (can that shade of green look good on anyone?), I keep it as my desktop background to remember my motivation every time I open my laptop.