After a short holiday after my Shelf exams, I am once again embarking on a long road of studying in preparation for the USMLE Step 1. For multiple reasons I feel a bit impatient: I would very much like to have this examination over with so that I can move on to the next stage of my training and life. Fifteen hundred miles away, my fiancée has already started her third year clinical rotations in an auspicious and exciting fashion: although she had little prior interest in surgery, her Surgery clerkship has hit the ground running. She remarked to me that she felt that she had learned more on the first day of her rotations than she did during the past two years. As I am climbing toward the peak of my knowledge and performance with respect to the preclinical curriculum and as I am starting to feel as though I might actually be a doctor someday, her discovery places my challenge in an entirely different context. As hard as I strive toward perfection now, preclinical knowledge is only one attribute that must be trained and constantly improved upon in order to perform well as a physician. I am terribly excited about that prospect: though my academic ability has improved considerably over the past few years, I do not see my strengths in the books or in the test setting. I chose this professional pathway to be with people, work with people, and rise to the emotional and intellectual challenge posed by human suffering and disease, not to sit in front of books and lecturers and computer screens.
Nonetheless, although my classes and course exams of the second year are over, I still have three more weeks of preparation left until I can officially leave this part of my life behind. For a while, I felt apprehensive of the notion of the third year of medical school: will I miss the unstructured time outside of lectures? Will I miss the leisurely lunch breaks and study breaks? Will I miss the relative lack of responsibility and expectation? At some point, I thought I might, but now I don’t think I will miss them very much. At least, I don’t think I will miss them any more than I miss my years as a child or a teenager in high school. Those times, these times had their joys and pains, ups and downs, and now it’s almost time for something new and better fitting for who I am and who I am becoming. I think that medicine must be a very unpleasant career for someone who cannot find pleasure in the journey: the long and winding road through training and hard commitments. Indeed, this is a reminder to myself: here, in this challenge, you have the opportunity to prove your mettle, show what this choice of school and path has given to you, and provide some measure on how far you have come. This time is the evening before game day, the climb before the summit celebration. It has to be done, and there’s only one person who can do it as well as you.