By: Derek Cheng, OMS I
It’s easy to forget the big picture. My classmates can probably attest to this humbling fact.
There are times when you just love medical school. It’s what you imagine before you sign your youth away to a lifestyle of heavy responsibilities. Maybe you’ve aced an exam or quiz, gone out to party with the company of good classmates, started dating someone, developed strong friendships, worn your white coat and stethoscope for the first time and felt like a doctor, or simply had a good day. Then the work load starts to build, and build …and build. Perhaps you sleep through your alarm clock and miss a quiz. There’s immense traffic on your way to school or back home. Your professor calls on you in the middle of a lecture with 200-some students and your mind is blank. Your grades are not representing the amount of effort you’ve put into studying. The number of poorly slept nights is accumulating. You break up with someone. Your classmates are understanding concepts when you’re struggling. One by one, the cards you’ve arduously and patiently placed have begun to tremble …and then BAM, your house of cards fails to support itself. You fall, and you fall hard. You’ve had enough of this B.S. You wonder why you’re doing this to yourself.
There are mornings when I wake up and wonder why I’m in medical school. I think any sane person would question such a thing. Albeit, there is little time to fuss around and contemplate such ideas when I’m waist-deep in the medical knowledge—thrown in my face to be memorized. Still, the better part of me inquires about my suffering. And, like a drug addict, I ignore my inner-voice and deny any such feelings or problems. After all, all of my classmates and all the physicians around me have pulled through. So, why haven’t I?
I’d like to believe that the rewards outweigh the costs—that the juice is worth the squeeze. Because, when I look outside of my window and see the other kids playing outside, the family events that I’ve missed, friendships and relationships that have faded, birthday parties, going-away parties, and many Friday and Saturday nights of fun that I’ve forfeited–I question what it’s all about.
Yes, I think it’s about a healthy balance. I’m a firm believer in the “work hard and party harder” attitude. And, I definitely still make time for the things most important to me in my life—but, the fine-tuning does not come easily. Finding such a balance point, for me, has been like chasing a swinging pendulum. It has been and continues to be ridiculously challenging.
To say it’s about the glamour of the white coat, a salary to pay back a quarter-million dollars worth of student loans, or a satiation for power is off-key; those rewards would never be sufficient to create enough light at the end of a long tunnel.
And then I think about the big picture. I think about the faces. I think about the neonatal floor where I spent time around babies with heart defects. I think about their frightened parents. I think about the woman with AIDS who talked about her favorite recipe for jerk-chicken—when she was too upset to talk about anything medically related. I think about the boy who cried in the operating room when he was terrified of being sedated by the anesthesiologist. I think about the old man who needed to squeeze my hand when he needed an IV to be placed. And I think about the time I spent in a hospice—with people who shared some of their stories with me before they passed.
Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché, but I have trouble remembering the facts I learned last month. All the details, terminology, and random bits seem trivial in relation to the big picture.
Nobody really guides you in medical school. You kind of have to figure it out for yourself. For me, it’s all about the big picture. And I constantly have to remind myself about this because it’s too easy to get sucked into the wash-rinse-and-repeat of each day.