My life looks very different now than what it did 5 weeks ago. And, 5 weeks before that, I was in another galaxy. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but these last couple months have been more of a startling transition than going from college and a summer off to matriculating the first year of medical school. I will say though, this transition has brought much more enjoyable changes.
So let’s start back at the end of April/beginning of May during board exam preparations when I deleted every social media app and other time-sucking things from my life and moved in with my best med school friends; it simultaneously became a huge load off my back having awesome roommates and being in a more nurturing place at home, but then it got a whole lot more stressful because Macy and I needed to buckle down and study. Hard.
This was 6 weeks before my big test, and classes were already over to give us time to study for boards on our own. (Before I go on, for all you non-medical people- passing this test is crucial to moving onto your “clinical” years of medical school and an absolute necessity for getting the big D.O. after my name. Residency programs look at this test score and assess your worthiness, and if getting into medical school isn’t hard enough, I daresay this was about 437 times harder than anything I had to do to get in.) Anyway, I took a practice test that the school required we take to make sure we were ready to take the exam and pass it.
I was not at a passing score at that test, 5 weeks out from D-day. I’ve debated writing about it because it feels like a big deal to talk about scores. This test and the months of preparation leading up to it are such a big part of my life right now and no one shares their scores except with the closest of people. Still, I want to share at least some of my story for the same reasons- because it is such a big part of my life and I learned so much.
I was devastated about this practice test score for days. I curled up in my mom’s lap and cried. My dad bought me a Quiktrip pretzel and told me to take a step back and maybe talk to the school about pushing everything back a few months. I cried to an attending physician in his office- the medical school equivalent to calling your teacher “mom”. Still, I decided to buckle down and move forward as planned and the plan was to pass at all costs.
I knew balance was key and I needed to stay sane with breaks and hobbies, etc, but I also wasn’t stupid. I knew my “studying status quo” of cooking a nice dinner, running 4-6 miles 5 times a week and taking Netflix breaks- even without the social media- wasn’t going to cut it. With a very important deadline, some more sacrifices had to be made.
I think I ran a total of four times in that last month. I watched one 22 minute show at the end of my study days. I started drinking Ensure nutrition shakes for meals. I lost 20 pounds in the 6 months before my boards, which is not a healthy amount for me by the way. I gave my dog back to my mom for a number of weeks. I went to an 8-5 board review class and stayed. awake. for. the. whole. entire. week. I hit the books hard and cried and panicked and learned more than I have ever learned in my entire life. I was also very miserable and alone for the majority of every single day for those six weeks.
I took two more practice tests before my exam, and I surprised myself, getting significantly better each time. I didn’t really know what to expect as far as what kind of progress was possible that close to a test date, but I did it. As well as I was doing, my anxiety lurked in the shadows during every minute I wasn’t studying. I would go get dinner with Dru and inside my heart was pounding, saying “You’re going to fail because you didn’t bring your book with you.” In the shower every night, “You don’t deserve a break with scores this low.” Laying in bed, biting my lips until they bled, texting my family and anyone else that would listen to try to get any sort of 5 second reassurance where I didn’t feel like I was going to vomit my esophagus up into my mouth. The harder I studied, the more I feared I would not pass.
Being naturally high strung, having anxiety, and a having healthy dose of fierce test anxiety to boot, I fully expected to need a dart gun to feel calm on test day. The night before, I took a Benadryl and a melatonin at 6 PM just to cover my bases. I added an ice pack on my head and a heating pad on my feet for good measure. I was out by 7:30PM. I woke up that next day and grabbed my packed lunch and rode with Macy to the testing center as we were taking it on the same day. I felt like everything was going to be okay. I got low on time during the first four hours, and I had never needed extra time before. Still, I didn’t feel nauseous. Even during lunch, when my mind was able to wander, I didn’t ever feel like it wasn’t going to be okay like I had been feeling for the past 6 weeks. Macy and I finished and went home- together, relieved, overwhelmed and exhausted- where my sweet boyfriend had cleaned my house and got me a couple precious happy gifts. Still, it would be another 6 weeks before I knew for sure I could take a breath.
In that 6 weeks I spent a lot of wonderful, mostly stress-free time with my family, roomies, and Dru. I learned Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Some of us went to the lake and saw lots of med school friends that we hadn’t really been able to let loose with really since orientation before first year. It was sweet, sweet relief to my tired, studied-out soul. Memories were made that I know I’ll cherish forever.
And then we started rotations. Possibly the most daily rewarding thing I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of. This useless noggin full of jumbled up, color-coded notes and random lectures finally has a use and can make heads or tails out of what’s actually wrong with my patients! (most of the time.) It is much easier to read medical things at night and on the weekends while being able to put a real patient’s face to the condition I need to learn more about.
I got my scores back last week and I was mostly pleased with the results. In my Type A hindsight, I like to think I could have done more and gotten an even better score by tweaking some of my preparation, but I do I know I did my best and really got a much needed confidence boost out of finding out that my best was good enough this time. Medical education can be extremely taxing in the self-doubt department and make you feel like you’re failing all around because it is so all-encompassing, all-consuming. This was not one of those times.
If you didn’t want to read the whole thing and scrolled down to the end here; I can really sum it all up by saying how extremely blessed I am to be in a career with these sorts ups and downs. Where the rewards are that much sweeter because of the trials. I can focus now on being the face-to-face, compassionate, knowledgable, doctor now that that pesky test is in my past; thank you Jesus.
I’m also lucky because of everyone that brought me meals (thanks, mom), sent me encouraging texts, cupcakes, edible arrangements, Starbucks, and hugs. My roommates really pulled together and helped me get through, while also studying and working really hard themselves. My family prayed for me and supported me emotionally and financially and recruited others to pray as well. My school faculty and classmates supported me and gave encouragement, resources, advice and kicks in the pants where needed. Dru loved me, taught me a lot of test material, and listened to me whine repeatedly; he did dishes, cooked meals and absolutely knocked his own test out of the park all at the same time.
I don’t remember where I read it or if it popped in my head or where I got it, but somewhere along the line, I told my family that I had a mantra for this seemingly insurmountable test. I started telling myself “You are overestimating the problem and underestimating yourself.” It sounds crazy at this point in my life that I would still be crippled at times with self-doubt and confidence when it comes to my ability to belong to this schooling and eventual career, but I do. Even after I got accepted to medical school, if you had asked me to look at a future hologram snapchat video of me seeing patients competently and happily coasting into the start of third year in July 2016, I would have said an incredulous, dumbfounded, “No, that can’t be me.”
It blows my mind, in the best of ways.