S2.5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Medical School


  1. Life keeps going while you are training. Medical training takes a long time; doing a PhD in the middle certainly does not shorten things. Making time for things outside of medicine including family, friends, exercise, and hobbies are critical to success in training, longevity in the medical field, and overall happiness.
  2. Degrees do not define you. There is a reason that you need to get a medical degree from an accredited institution and pass a litany of examinations in order to practice medicine in the United States. You certainly do not want someone with a half baked education and understanding of the human body taking charge of your care. However the degree does not define the person. It does not define their worth or value. It does not tell you whether they can sleep at night. Whether they feel satisfied with their job or whether they truly care for their patients or are just in it for the money. It doesn’t tell you if they are a good person, whether they love their spouse and family, whether they are constantly striving for better. All it tells you is they went to school for a long time and can take standardized tests. Do not be lured into thinking that the degree will be your defining feature. Rather define yourself by what you do, how you treat people, what you strive for, and what you stand for. Allowing your degree to define you settles for too little and sell you far too short.
  3. Your view on faith, religion, or spirituality will significantly change how your patient interactions will affect you.  First note that I did not say that your view on faith, religion, or spirituality will affect your ability to practice good medicine. Rather this view will change how your care of patients will affect you. In medicine you see people endure and sometimes succumb to terrible illnesses. You hear their stories and the circumstances that led up to that place. You often spend weeks or even months sometimes seeing patients year over year. Their family gets to know you and seeing them everyday becomes a ritual. Many people die despite your best efforts. Your beliefs on a soul, an afterlife, a deity, the nature of that deity, and overarching plan for the world will directly affect how these experiences affect and change you. Your beliefs in this area will determine whether you into harden into something unbreakable and unfeeling, crumple under the weight of having to know everything, take every loss personally, or are able to rest in your own mortality, in your own efforts, and in the belief that a greater plan is afoot.
  4. People, not problems are the object of medicine. Going through the first years of medical school it feels like the goal of medicine is to accumulate the most knowledge that you can so that you have the right answer to give the patient to solve their problem. Of course some knowledge is necessary, but the knowledge necessary to become a good physician is less than some might suspect. Frank Abagnale Jr., the inspiration for the movie Catch Me If You Can, once worked in a hospital posing as a physician. He was able to get away with it for some time without any problems simply by managing his junior residents and utilizing his skills as a con man and people person. Being a good physician is about the people. Medical and nursing staff, other support staff, and of course the patients and their families are the focus. The way in which you manage these relationships will be of far greater import than how much you know.
  5. It is worth it. There is always a lot of complaining no matter where you go. The discontented are often the loudest. As the saying goes, the days are long and the years are short, but it is worth it. The failures and successes, the struggles and the achievements are all worth it. Not only because of the end result, but because the process was refining, enlightening, purifying, and clarify. Despite the flaws and failing of the system and the people, there is no better field to be in, no more interesting problems to solve, and no more humbling occupation.

Published by JR Stanley

I am an MD, PhD student, training to be a physician scientist, with a deep interest in science, faith, and living life as an adventure. Join me as I entertain ideas from new findings in science, evolving interpretations of faith, and experience life one day and one adventure at a time.

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