Advice about med school blowing hard...

I received a comment on one of my older posts commenting that the writer had found me by Googling the phrase "Med school blows." In the absolute lack of anything else to write about, I'm gonna throw down some knowledge/experiences...be prepared for awesomeness!!!

So you've spent the last 5-10 years of your life working towards this moment: getting into medical school. Now that you're here you think it sucks and you might have made the biggest, most expensive mistake of your life? Yeah, welcome to the club Anonymous. Many medical students have what I like to call an "Oh Shit" moment once they get into the day to day slog of medical school. I had one of those moments myself about 3 weeks into school for my first set of exams, and look at me I survived it!

It's VERY easy to get caught up in the feeling of "THIS STUFF BLOWS A GOAT" especially around exam time. It's even easier when you've just left a fairly easy job where you worked 40 hours a week, drank your paycheck away and really had very few cares when the clock hit 5PM. The transition was rough for me anyway. I imagine you have just come to the painful realization that you didn't want to study Anatomy and Histology. To be completely honest, you're going to realize that you don't really want to study Biochem, Physio, Neuro, Psych, Path, Pharm, Micro or Ethics either. So that begs the question why you signed up to be tortured for the next 4 years of your life whilst paying out of your ass for it?

Well it took me almost the entire first year of school to figure this one out. You'd figure someone who made it this far would be bright enough to conjure a silver lining somewhere in the midst of the shit-storm. Well, after a particularly rough final set of exams for Neuro, including a mini-board that was actually my worst exam performance in medical school, I did some soul searching. As with any good Irish fellow, my soul searching included copious amounts of whiskey and beer. I find that they help to slow down my brain to the point where instead of just making decisions based on the immediate situation, I take time to evaluate the entirety of the situation...it may sound like BS, but it works for me.

I looked at the big picture: Was this truly what I wanted? What am I doing here? What would I be doing otherwise? Why don't twinkies go bad for 40 years? Where did I put that bottle of scotch? You know, the important global questions.

I came up with a few very important answers that changed how I look at things:

1.) Medical School is not truly what I wanted out of life. Anyone who want's that is just plain SICK. What I wanted was to have a nice easy life where everything comes to me with minimal effort and I don't have to work very hard at all to get where I want, and I want oompa-loompas to bring me candy while I swim in a river of chocolate. That sort of life is not a possibility for me since my parents are neither wealthy nor willing to let me waste my life like that (and oompa-loompas aren't real either...sadly).

Short of that, what do I want out of life? I want to pay back my loans, to have a medium sized family and a good dog that will actually listen to me off the leash, to leave a lasting impression on a few of the people that I encounter in life and a job that changes on a daily basis and is somewhat unscripted so that I don't get too bored with it. In short, I want to look back on my life 45-50 years from now on my death bed and be able to say "Damn, that was a good life!" How can I have all of that? By going through with this beast.

2.) I am here at school to learn to be a physician. Physicians are not born, they are not pampered into existence. They are nearly ordinary people, broken down to a steaming pile of humanity by medical school, and then rebuilt into a slightly less steaming pile of humanity that is then baked by the heat of residency, forged by the flame of fellowship, and then made to crumble by the weight of debt, malpractice insurance, and CME obligations.

In other words, the training process sucks. It was designed by a bunch of single geeks at JHU with no aspirations outside of medicine. It always has sucked. It will suck more for the people that come after me...but it's not what the reality of your medical practice will be. If you can just look past the mountains of stuff that you have to learn in order to be certified competent by the NBME as a physician, you can then be tortured by a state liscencing board and allowed to pass and live your life how you want and take your career/life whereever you choose! I know it's tough when you're staring at Netter trying to memorize the Brachial Plexus (Roots, Trunks Divisions, Cords), but there is more to medicine than rote memorization.

3.) If I weren't here, I would probably be sitting in some analytical chemistry lab at some Ginormous Pharmaceutical Company in Connecticut (which shall remain nameless) pushing samples of the latest batch of "old-wrinkly-penis de-wrinkling" pills into a GC/MS while slowly growing my pension and counting down the days until I could retire. I could get married, pop out 1.5 kids, buy a modestly sized house in a modest neighbor hood, sending my kids to modest schools, living a modest life as quality inspection monitor number 1234 of 2000. There could be no imaginable fate worse than that for me. So whatever cool ideas that you've concocted in your exhausted, sleep-deprived mind as an excuse to quit, make them seem mundane and temper them with the fact that you'd have to pay for them somehow and the act of paying for them would take more time than the fun you'd actually have.

4.) Twinkies, Cockroaches and Dick Cheney will be the only things to survive the next nuclear holocaust. Hostess designed them as the perfect food, and well they did a little bit too good of a job. By the way, the bakery where the twinkie was originally created was torn down and replaced with a Nordstrom/Neiman Marcus. Hows that for progress??? Yeah, I got to visit (was dragged into) the Tiffany's that stands where the loading docks once were with the girlfriend a couple weekends ago...the place got a slightly different feel to it these days. I digress...

So anyway, Anonymous here's my advice, all wrapped up in a nice package:

-The first year of Medical School is not what the rest of your life will be like. You're studying random medically-related trivia at this point. Next year, you'll learn more medically relevant trivia, but it's when the good stuff your learned first year goes bad, which makes it slightly more interesting, like a Fox special. Third year, you lose all of your freedoms by becoming the lowest ranked person in the hospital...but you get to see patients and tell their stories to everyone else and pretend to be a doctor. Fourth year, they let you think you've learned something and allow you some freedom to sleep to choose what you do. Then depending on your specialty you get paid too little to work too much in residency for a few to several years. Finally, when all that's over, you can get a real job and have President Hillary Clinton (in her second term) signing your paycheck. (Or you can join the rebel forces and strike out on your own in private practice.) (Or you can avoid the whole ordeal and do a few fellowships and wait for the next fix.)

-It doesn't get better, you just learn to accept the crap they pile upon you more easily.
-You'll slowly realize that you will indeed, some day, need this knowledge to figure out what the hell is wrong with someone. That is why you're studying it after all.
-As much as this profession sucks, someone has to do it...it might as well be you doing it.

My suggestions
for the short term:

Go back and read the lies in your personal statement and secondaries, realize how naive you were. Laugh at yourself for not thinking this through better a year ago. Have a beer or 3. Write "I will not commit to 7 years of torture without thinking it through ever again" on a white board 50 times for emphasis. Pass out, wake up and remember the previous night from the white board, laugh because it's so true.

Medium Term:
Schedule a day to shadow in the ED of your school's affiliated hospital, put on your short white coat of indignation and listen to the patients' stories about why they're there, listen to the doctors' story about why they show up there day after day. Schedule a day in the Pediatric Oncology ward, read stories to the kids, play with them, talk to the doctors and nurses about why they go back to that floor day after day after day. Go to Hospice for a day, go to psych for a day. Lather, Rinse, Repeat with anyone else in the hospital.

Longer term
Go back to your room. Sit by yourself in the quiet and listen to why you're there. Write it down on your blog, read it whenever you're feeling like all of this isn't worth it. If you can't hear anything, you're not listening hard enough. If you honestly can't find one redeeming reason deep down in your soul to grab on to that makes all of this worth it, give up your spot, give as much of your loans back as you can, and get the hell out of dodge before you've bought a house that you'll never live in. Being miserable for the rest of your life is not worth a couple letters after your name.

What's the point?
Remember who you were, learn who you'll be, do something about it...that's all there is to it.

Best of luck


The Lone Coyote said...

Nice post. You're right on. Btw... I have gotten several hits from Google searches like that one: "medical school sucks," "____ Medical School sucks." I guess it comes with the territory.

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John said...

amazing post. I dunno if it boosted my morale but it definitely made me feel a bit better