Among the challenges of the third year of medical school, are the multiple burdens in the absence of any actual responsibility. We must manage to be sycophantic, saccharine standardized students capable of regurgitating medical data on demand for anywhere from 8 to 12 hours daily, followed by hours of studying, drilling aforesaid data into the soft tissue that comprises our brains, in order that we may regurgitate this data onto standardized exams. Never mind that standardized exams, like standardized patients, produce standardized physicians.
Furthermore, we must apply to away rotations, which like applying for medical school and residency, has its own application process. Assuming we get an away rotation somewhere, we must grapple with the uncertainty of how to find temporary housing for 4 weeks in an unfamiliar city, the identity of which is as of yet unbeknownst to us, knowing that some programs may offer us an away elective just one week in advance.
When we begin to find ourselves experiencing symptoms of burnout, hypersomnia, fatigue, avolition, what do we tell ourselves? Not good enough?
Stay up later.
Wake up earlier.
And so, we create unrealistic expectations, tell ourselves, we will increase our workload, read x number of chapters, do y number of questions, and spend z amount of time improving our clinical skills to be better diagnosticians.
And at the end of the day, it is not surprising that we are disappointed in ourselves. Disappointed that after getting out of a surgery rotation at 8 pm, the only thing we are interested in is food and falling asleep while watching Netflix.
So we tell ourselves tomorrow will be different. We will successfully drag ourselves out of bed before the sun rises, we will remain steadfastly productive throughout the entirety of the day, and be a better version of the self we were today.
And then the morning comes, and we’re like “fuck that,” hit the snooze until the last possible minute, and finally drag our asses out of bed just in time to make it to our rotation, but with no time for that early morning UWorld set we were pining for.
And so the cycle of disappointment and unrealistic expectations to counter our disappointment sets in again.
The solution is not to “be better.” To “work harder.” To sleep less and read more. And it sure as hell is not to compare ourselves to our “harder-working” peers; fuck those fucking robots. The solution is to honor the fact that the second half of the third year of medical school is the hardest we have worked in medical school, and it is the hardest we will ever have to work in medical school.
The years to come will be harder still, because we will finally bear the responsibility of being actual physicians. But when that time comes, we will also have the privilege of knowing that what we do actually matters, that we’re not just placeholders, piece of shit medical students who purposelessly serve, not to improve the lives of our patients, if we can even deign to call them our patients, but to impress our preceptors with knowledge we don’t fully understand how to employ.
This may be the final lap, but it’s a long one and I don’t have the energy to expend on a full on sprint. So I choose to coast a little longer, to permit what little momentum I have left to carry me forward until the time comes, until we get round that final curve and enter the last stretch. When the end is very clearly in sight, ostensibly my study intensive period for Step 2, I will sprint. But for now, I am just going to enjoy the fact that spring has finally arrived in the Northeast.