Being a third year medical student is an exercise in humility. I remember showing up on that first day last July, my white coat pristine and pockets stuffed with reference books, confident that I was up to the challenge. Those illusions were dashed quickly. I was amazed to find that I could know so much and yet so little at the same time. The pre-clinical years may have prepared me well to take board examinations but I was a true novice when it came to real medicine and the workings of the hospital. It took me over a week just to figure out how to use the ice machines in the nurses’ stations properly. Talk about a humbling experience.
One thing I have mastered this year is the art of adaptation. No two days have been alike. Being able to quickly adjust to different fields of medicine, hospitals, and teams has been a challenge. For me, flexibility is essential, along with a good sense of humor and strong sense of humility. I hope to convey all three when I say (somewhat jokingly) to my colleagues, “I try to make a different mistake every day. My goal is to not make the same mistake twice.” I want to let them know that I’m open to feedback, negative or positive, and I know that I’ll make many mistakes along the way.
It took a while for me to be truly comfortable with this approach. After so many years of being graded based on knowing the right answer, it can be hard to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes before asking a question I think back to the sign at my grandfather’s office that read “Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I ask myself, Should I speak up? Should I admit that, no, I didn’t appreciate that murmur or see that bulging tympanic membrane? There’s a risk you take when you are honest about your own limitations and struggles. In the end, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. There is an inherent power in allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It allows you to connect with others and opens you up to greater growth. More often than not, I’ll find that someone else has a similar issue and I can learn from their experience and advice. It helps remind me that I’m not alone, that this is hard for everyone.
This year has challenged me intellectually, physically, and emotionally in ways I didn’t anticipate. These days my white coat has scattered pen stains and a more offwhite hue than before. My pockets are still full, but rather than reference books, they are likely filled with granola bars, lip balm, and notes scribbled on scraps of paper.
If I could go back to last July and give myself some advice it would be this: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Ask for help. Above all else, don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun along the way.