Anything but Middle-of-the-Road

I can’t believe we have one week left of our first year! I had such high hopes for writing these blog posts as a record of my medical school experience. Somewhere around February, though, when the weather was at its worst and I was caught in the doldrums of staying on top of my work and laundry, it occurred to me that much of this experience is intensely personal… and hard to talk about.

When people ask me how medical school is going, my answer is never simple—I try to condense the whirlwind down to a sentence or two, but they never quite do it justice. It occurs to me that the practice of explaining my experience to friends and family is an exercise in empathy. In the way we ask our patients to tell us how to they feel, where they hurt, how it’s affecting their lives, so should we practice trying to explain ourselves…

It’s been wonderful, intense, challenging, inspiring, heartbreaking, astounding, nuts. This year has been anything but middle-of-the-road—the most exhilarating learning moments (say, the first time I watched a ventilator adjustment correct a patient’s acidosis) snuggle next to days so steeped in doubt, I question my most fundamental understanding of myself. Recently, in one of our OSCE exams (where we interact with standardized actor patients to practice clinical skills), I was told that I needed to intersperse more empathy into my encounters. The standardized patient/actor gave me a couple buzz phrases to use in the future, and I found myself bucking against this recommendation. I don’t want to be told what to say to make myself sound empathetic; I want to continue to grow into what I feel is my most empathetic self, to be able to share this in a natural way, and I am up for the challenge of discovering it. In some ways, much of this year has been about that discovery—learning to be gentle with myself when I need a concept explained multiple times, learning to step back and watch myself conceptualize or frame a problem or conversation, listening intensely to my incredible classmates as role models and counterpoints. It’s an understatement to say that I’ve grown this year; it’s also an understatement to say that it’s been an honor. I’m still in awe of this small corner of the medical world I am allowed to inhabit, and I can’t wait to get more comfortable in it next year, and the next, and the next… and all those yet to come. I’m working on putting words to this experience, and I’m grateful for this space to share it… Happy summer!