I’m over 50% finished with my MD program in the Appalachian Mountains, done with (and passed!)the first part of my licensing boards, and am finally onto the greener grass of clinical medicine. So, what have I learned, and how have I changed in this process? Through my first year, my clinical research in sepsis taught me so much about the bigger picture of medicine; I began to fine-tune my bedside manner; I was finally able to see and understand the undeniable impact of socioeconomic status on health. The second year of medical school is notoriously the hardest, because while balancing an even more challenging course load, preparation for licensing boards begins simultaneously. Yes, I learned about disease processes, drugs, interventions, and all that, but I learned about my priorities in the process. I was even crazy enough to get married – to another 2nd year medical student! I’m going to share something incredibly personal that I’m hoping you can grow from – my grades, how I got them, and why I chose (and continue to choose) life over numbers.
During my first year, I began to study how I study, the outcomes, and the most effective ways for me, personally. After dozens of exams, countless hours banging my head against my whiteboard, and proverbially throwing mud at the wall for months on end, I made some pretty interesting discoveries about how I learn. Turns out, it takes me personally about an extra 15-20 hours per exam of additional, dedicated study time on top of my normal study habits to achieve a strong A. What did getting that A do for me? Were those hours worth it? Well, also turns out it just means I pounded into my head the additional minutiae to get the detailed questions, but those details didn’t impact my overall understanding of the material or the concepts. Hmm… I found myself at a fork in the road – I could achieve a higher GPA, class rank, and increase my chances of matching somewhere fancy, OR I could invest those hours into something else.
I made the conscious choice and effort to achieve B’s in the first 2 years of medical school, and I don’t have a single regret about it. Here’s why:
With those extra 15-20 hours per exam (there are a lot of exams), I invested in my relationship with my girlfriend, who became my fiancé, and is now my dear wife. Clearing up some hours meant I always had an extra hour per day to take our Great Dane, Wrigley, on a walk or to the dog park with my wife. Those walks meant we had more quality time together every single day. We started taking longer lunches and dinners together. We talked more. We grew more. We went on more dates! We even built strong friendships at the dog park because we made the conscious effort to put ourselves before the books. I actually watched tv shows and kept up with them with my wife, and we had something to look forward to on Monday nights and could laugh about what farmer Chris was going to do next week on The Bachelor.
With more time, I began songwriting again, and recording things for pleasure, which I haven’t done in years. I even performed one for our school where I wrote about the life of my anatomy group’s donor, Winston. I even started brewing more beer while crafting new recipes, and I invested some time to learn about the craft brewing business to see if opening a brewery one day is a feasible option. With more time, my best friend taught me how to paint, and I was able to give my wife a meaningful piece on our wedding day.
Making the conscious effort to focus on myself, the people around me, and investing in the things I care about instead of numbers is one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. I noticed that when I did achieve an A, it came at the expense of my relationships with those I love as well my own ability to be introspective. Being introspective and decompressing with hobbies and life outside of medicine is one of the most important pieces to handling and managing the immense pressure of medical education. Of course I’ve never been perfect in the process, and when I noticed myself turning sour to those around me, like a corked bottle of wine left too long without being enjoyed, it was because I had lost focus on my priorities. It’s a balancing act, and I’m thankful I have those who love me enough to help in this imperfect science.
With two years of medical education and a few weeks of clinical medicine under my belt, I’ve learned that medicine can be a selfish and consuming mistress, if you let her. I’ve learned it is incredibly easy to achieve at the expense of personal growth. However, if you choose day in and day out to love and invest in those around you instead of her, the payback is invaluable. I have also learned that your value can never be measured in numbers or letters, but instead in the depth of relationships you have with loved ones and the impact you make in your community. As a medical student, time is our most valuable asset – be wise with it. Invest it as you would your hard-earned money; buy things with it that will last the longest, and stretch your time-dollar as far as it will go with the things that matter most to you in life. I’m not top of my class. Not even close. But my relationship with my wife has never been better, and because I bought time to work on some humanities, I haven’t noticed any soured wine in quite some time.