Road to Medical School: There’s No Rule Book

One of the first things that I learned very quickly: there isn’t one set way on how to get to medical school. I wish there was because that would make it a whole lot easier. You’d think that we’d like having the freedom to choose some of the classes we take but, being the Type A personality that I am, it actually drives me crazy. I always feel like I’m doing it wrong. Actually, that might be a bit of an understatement. The medical stuff comes naturally to me, but chemistry is my green-eyed monster. It’s eating me alive. I’m constantly stressing and I’m most definitely not the best one here.

I came from a high school that didn’t prepare me at all for General Chemistry 1 at Kent State University, and the professor I had wasn’t the best either, nor was he very helpful. It also didn’t help matters that I was in over my head and wasn’t sure how to really study. I withdrew and spring semester I had to retake the course. I am happy to announce that I did very well the second time around with a new professor. Everything seemed to click better the second time. Knowing that Kent’s department wasn’t up to par, I decided to transfer to The Ohio State University. To say that OSU’s chemistry department is rigorous is only the tip of the iceberg. Mentality wise, this feels like boot camp. I was not used to the test format or having to write extensive lab reports, which we didn’t do at Kent. Furthermore, Kent didn’t teach as much in their Gen Chem 1 course as Ohio State does and so, once again, I’m behind in curriculum. My academic advisor and I are currently in a debate of whether or not I should withdraw and…you guessed it…retake Gen Chem 2 spring semester. The whole idea of it is sort of embarrassing as I’m used to being at the top of my class and understanding things naturally. I know that I’m most definitely not stupid; I’m doing very well in all of my other courses. But for whatever reason, chemistry hits me and it hits me hard.

I’m so used to be on a set schedule; one way to do things and that’s the way it’s done. In high school, they give you a set schedule for 4 years and it’s easy and you know what to take and what to do and when to do it. College, I assumed 4 years of undergrad, 4 years of medical school, then residency and fellowship. Instead, it’s more like, major in what you want, just make sure you take X, Y, and Z and do it relatively well. It never really occurred to me that college is not about getting things done within a certain time frame. It’s simply about getting things done. If I need to take a 5th year, then I can do that. (The thought of that is still a little unsettling, but I’m working on it). If I need to take a year off, then I can do that too. This is the one instance when it’s about the final destination and not necessarily how fast you can complete your journey. There’s not one set way on how to become a doctor and I haven’t really settled with that yet. It makes me feel like I’m walking around in the dark. I wish we had a rule book to follow, a set of specific directions.

It’s definitely hard and not for the faint of heart. But medicine is all I want to do, all I can see myself doing. So it’s one of those things where I have to ask myself how much I’m willing to do to get there. Half of the time I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and that I suck at this, and the other half I feel confident that one day I’ll make a great doctor. I’m constantly wondering whether or not I’m good enough for this. The whole process can become a little lonely at times too, especially when I’m stuck staying in studying while watching vicariously on social media as my non-medical friends go out and have fun. It really does help when I have people to stay in and study with. Most med major students are friendly enough, and they’re in the same boat.

Now the internal battle, that’s all me. And that’s the part that sucks. I have to learn to get rid of the little critic on my shoulder telling me that I’m not good enough. It’s tough and sometimes I do doubt myself. But I can’t imagine walking away after coming this far already. And I know that if I don’t have confidence in myself then no one else will either. The ironic part is that all of my friends tell me how my life is together and I’m just like, are you kidding me right now? I’m an absolute mess! Analogy wise, I’m a duck: stoic on the surface but paddling like hell underneath, always feeling like I’m going to sink.

I have a Dr. who teaches one of my neuro courses give us a really good piece of advice one day. He said that if we’re not constantly questioning ourselves every day and wondering whether or not we want to do this, and wondering how we can improve, then medicine isn’t for us. Questioning is part of the process. Sometimes it’s not about natural talent and more about consistency and drive, and how badly you want it. He also told us that curiosity will bring more success than natural intelligence. I’m hoping that he’s right, because I feel like I fall more on the hard-work-and-drive end of the spectrum. Natural talent for medicine? Maybe. For chemistry? Hard work is barely saving my ass. I just keep telling myself that people may be smarter, or richer, or faster, or better than me, but they will not outwork me. I feel like I could be a really good doctor once I get there. But I’m still scared that something as simple as chemistry is going to prevent me from ever getting there. I think that half of the “weed out” process is just seeing who can survive the mentality of it.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

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A Moment Like This

Yesterday, I got to go into The Ohio State College of Medicine cadaver lab with my neuroscience class. So cool and so fun! I held and observed brains, spinal cords and dissections. Our cadaver had been dead since 2001, but the dissection planes were perfectly preserved. I could have easily spent all day in there.

A friend sent this photo to me shortly after I had gotten out of lab and told her about my experience. It literally takes the words right out of my mouth. During my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to visit the morgue with my medical vocational proIMG_3227gram. We got to hold organs that had been removed for an autopsy. I had loved every second of it but was more interested in jumping right in and learning the structures and functions of everything. I wanted to know everything and see everything. Yesterday, when I had held the brain, it was different. I knew the structures already and could just appreciate the brain for what it was. I held it and stared at it and was completely amazed at how a lump of squishy, squiggly mush controls us. It doesn’t look any different from anyone else’s on the outside, but somewhere on the inside it’s completely unique to each one of us. I was holding the essence of what used to be a person; what was once their likes, dislikes, thoughts, fears, ideas, secrets, addictions, etc. was sitting in my hands.

The classes may be hard, really hard. I might have to study every day and sacrifice going out with my friends sometimes. Tuition may be expensive and I might have to sell my car or not get the newest phone update. But moments like this completely make up for all of that. I would much rather work hard now and have a job that I love and feel ecstatic and amazed like that for the rest of my life. Why do I want to be a doctor? For moments like this.

What If

There’s this person in my head. She is brilliant, capable. She can do chest tubes and craniums. She can run a code without freaking out. She’s a really good surgeon, maybe even a great surgeon. She’s me, only so much better and I’m afraid I’ll never become this person because something keeps getting in the way.

-Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy, S4E14

Another Grey’s Anatomy reference, but this one is so unbelievably true I had to post it. It took the words right out of my mouth. Because it’s one of my greatest fears every day.

Part of me feels good and on top of the game and invincible, but there is an equally large part of myself that dares to wonder ‘what if’. What if I don’t make it? What if I’m not the best? What if everything was actually for nothing? What if my best still isn’t good enough? What if I’m left with nothing?

Some days, fear propels me to succeed just as much as my love of medicine does.