Pre-meds take heart.
I ache for you. I really do.
I know how it is. I know you doubt your decision to become a doctor or PA constantly. I know that it comes at the worst times too. Right before a test.
I used to sit in the student union with my science classmates, staring at our textbooks. We watched the sun go down from the same spot almost every night. We ordered dinner in there; sipped coffee; ate entirely too many sour straws. We pretended to know how to explain the problems’ solutions to each other. We tried index cards, quizzing each other, making up games, and repeating the answers over and over. We tried writing it out multiple times and diagramming it, any creative way to make it easier on ourselves to learn.
During this ritual, one or all of us would end up with eyes glazed over, elbow resting on the book, face in hand. Or worse- head down resting on the book staring off into the void.
Jenna would catch my eye and say “What?” as in “What are you thinking?” and I’d spout off our usual joke about wishing the information would just enter my brain through osmosis as I was laying on it.
Then- and stay with me here because our overloaded minds rarely make sense. “I just…. I can’t… I mean… [sigh]. This is just really hard and I hate it and I’m tired and I can’t… I mean…. ugh… WHY?
Natural progression dictates the others around you join in on the moaning. Such begins a big discussion of every cruel assignment, poorly written test, where your grades are at, how bad/good your week is on workload, and a psychoanalysis of how to conquer every class and professor. It goes on and on.
Eventually I would realize that all the other study groups in the room are long gone. The moon is so high its not visible from the wall of windows anymore. Everything is closed. My roommate is probably fast asleep at home. I start gathering up my stuff realizing I’m not studying anymore tonight and sleep would better serve me. As soon as the backpack is slung around to my back, books out of sight, I feel immediately guilty that I have not studied enough.
I walk to my car slumped over, exhausted and sometimes genuinely depressed at another day of failure. Of not understanding. Of not making the grade. Of wanting to do something, anything other than how I spent my hours that day.
I get to my apartment, briefly stare into the kitchen and decide that making food would take too much energy even though I had apple rings and red diamond tea for dinner 8 hours ago. I get ready for bed literally beside my bed, the motions so familiar I don’t even turn the light on. Its simple really.
Take backpack off, set it on the floor beside my bed where I grab it first thing the next morning. Pull my bra out of my shirt, take my pants off. Plug in my phone. Get in bed. No makeup removal, no brushing teeth.
This, my friends, is the burn out.
I feel for you premeds because I know this trudgery well. It was my life for what felt like most nights of the last three years. I know how you feel even if you can’t say it.
What we are not able to articulate to our study buddies in the moment where you are pondering your life silently instead of actively studying- is how you aren’t sure if you want to actually do this. To be a doctor. You don’t know if you can do it all through undergrad and then add four more years. You don’t even know if you’ll pass physics and it keeps you up at night when you are so so tired. At the ripe age of 20, you are burnt out and you want to do something else. Please, God, anything else!! You just don’t have it in you anymore.
Believe me there are plenty of people that will tell you that you can go ahead and do something else. Many of your classmates will choose something else and you will secretly envy them. I did. They are probably the wise ones. The ones that will be able to go on a trip to Cabo with 3 other married couples when they’re 25 while you are still in school. Its a respectable and understandable choice. I wish I had been able to do something else.
Several times, though, in the middle of the “doubt everything” phase, I would consider my other options. “What else would I do?” I thought. “What do I really want to be doing?”
I didn’t have a single answer. In the moment there were plenty of things I would rather do: eat, stand outside, take a shower, make a phone call, break down and cry, stab a professor, eat again, sleep. But in the future? What did I want to be? A doctor. That was always the answer. I want to see patients. I want them to trust me, let me into their lives, mourn with them, appreciate their humanity, heal them, understand their health as a human being better than any other doctor they’ve ever had.
My rational mind then takes me to what I must do as a follow up. If being a doctor is all I want, and being a doctor requires medical school and medical school requires I pass this course. Then it follows that passing this course requires I study. So here I sit and here I will study. This is what you want to do. That’s all the resolve I need. It’s that simple.
In each burn out, you ultimately have to figure it out for yourself if medicine is still want you want to do, time after time. But I just want you to know that it happens, and it happens to everyone. Often. Questioning it isn’t a reason to quit. It not being what you want is a reason to quit. Because being a doctor is going to take a lot of work. Its probably going to take a lot out of you. You can do it, though, if its what you want to do. It’s going to be easier to handle all the work, when you realize that its not just something you have to do, in the end, you wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.
Also, go easy on yourself. It may be miserable to sit there studying; I know my group dreaded going in to study at the end of class each day, but being there is half the battle. And if you really wanted to be doing something else, you’d be out there doing it, not studying.
I know it sounds crazy but I actually miss those late nights with friends studying and talking and whining about our lives. I’m scared out of my pants for medical school to start! What if its worse than those terrible nights?! Now that is scary.
“It’s so strange how life works: you want something and you wait and wait [and work] and feel like its taking forever to come. Then it happens and it’s over and all you want to do is curl back up in that moment before things changed.” -Lauren Oliver