…I wanted to share a letter that I wrote to myself just less than two years ago, on the day before my third year of medical school began. The day before I officially started working in the hospitals for the first time.
I was terrified.
Honestly, I did not think I was capable. The two years in front of me felt daunting and impossible. I did not think I have the strength of character to go down such a difficult road. I seriously questioned whether this path was right for me. I seriously questioned whether I was right for this path.
I am a person who invests in multiple interests in order to protect myself. It seemed to me, however, that medicine demands that you invest in it wholeheartedly as a career, or you will not make it through the process. I wasn’t sure I could do that. I wasn’t sure I would make it.
I was telling all of this to a pretty incredible friend, and she inspired me to capture all of my fears and self-doubt in a letter to address to myself, to read two years later, on my 27th birthday.
Today, April 2nd, 2014 was my last day working in the hospitals as a medical student. In a few months, I will be a first-year resident.
I have so many feelings and words I want to say that I don’t know where to begin right now. But today, as it was my last day, all I could think about was this letter that I wrote to myself two years ago. I really hadn’t read it since I wrote it. But today, for some reason, I really wanted to read it.
So I read it, and now I share it with you here today, for anyone who may question whether medicine is for you, or for anyone who was/is ever terrified that a career might demand your undivided focus for a lengthy period of time. I just hope you know that you are not alone in your fears, doubts, and hesitations. And even though I ended up sticking with medicine, it doesn’t mean I would have been unhappy had I ended up figuring out that medicine was not for me. For me, the important thing was to give myself a break, and let myself truly try medicine before I made a decision one way or another.
It really isn’t the destination. It really is the journey.
And so today, as I’m nearing the end of this leg of my journey, I find myself reflecting back on my last few years here, and that is where my super cheesy letter to myself finds its start…
Happy birthday! Hope you are enjoying the Sunshine or rain or whatever weather it is today. Remember to travel slow enough through life to appreciate what is around you.
When you read this, you may have decided that medicine is not for you. And if that is the case, I hope you realize that this is more than ohkay. I write this not as a prediction, but as emancipation. I know that you are scared of giving 100% because you are scared to fall short. You’ve always tried to do a million different things at the same time, and all of those eggs in all of those baskets gave you security to know that even if you fail, you have all of those other baskets to hold you. It was the courage to not care about failure that allowed you to be successful in different domains. It was spending 40 hours a week for 4 months working on a project because it made you happy, and not because it would look good on your CV.
Somewhere along the way you forgot how to enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing. You became so afraid of what the next moment holds that you forgot to love the present one you inhabit. You are about to enter core clerkship tomorrow, and looking back in 2014, I hope you look back realizing that you squeezed every moment for what it was worth. You can worry about being wrong, looking stupid, acting a certain way to please patients or staff, but what did it do for you in 2011 and the first half of 2012? Nothing, except create a mask of fear that you used to protect yourself, which only ended up consuming you.
When you look back from 2014, I hope you realized every day that each rotation is 4 weeks long. That means that each rotation is 20 to 24 days long. Each day you spend in the ward, in the clinic, or in the OR is one less day there. You are going to end up choosing just one specialty, or maybe you will decide to drop out of medicine altogether. Either way, it means that each day you spend in internal medicine, in trauma surgery, even in obstetrics and gynecology, is 5% of your entire time in that field. You may never scrub into another surgery. You may never deliver another baby. You may never see or treat that illness again. And for sure, there will be many patients who you will never see again. And they deserve your full attention. They deserve the you who laughs and loves with all your heart and all your soul. They deserve a person who cares just as much about their comfort as their treatment. They deserve a person who sees them. And that requires you not burdening yourself with fears and worries and concerns about the future that you have absolutely no control over. It requires you to be authentically you and present in the face of fear.
But if I know you like I know me, then by the time you read this letter, you will have made it through intact and complete. You will have opened yourself to learning without self-judgment. You will have made it through knowing yourself fiercely and having the determination to be yourself unapologetically. You will have set yourself free from not only others’ expectations, but your own, which are infinitely harsher. You will have treated each day in the rotations like it was your last one there, because it very well could have been. You will always remember that what makes you you isn’t your technical prowess or limitless knowledge, but how you use all of that to listen to patients, colleagues, friends, family, people; and leave every person that you interact with a happier, healthier individual than before you met, whether you decide to do that using medicine, or not.
Congratulations, June =). Happy 27th!
With love (and I write this because I think you often forget to love yourself),
July 29th, 2012 (the day before clerkship begins)