Thursday, June 5, 2014

Inspiration and the Medical Student

My last post started with the idea of finding Inspiration, of the sort that drives one to create, to achieve, to question, to learn. The natural next question is what I plan to do with that Inspiration.
We’re told as children to dream big, that the world is ours for the taking. It’s no less true now—I’d be hard-pressed to find a better and richer environment in which to learn—but things have changed. As a high school or college student, I had the bandwidth to pursue those dreams. Sure, I still wanted to do more than I was able, but my internal checks and oft-waning interest for my latest obsession set up a sustainable way to balance my time against my passions. But as a medical student, it’s simply no longer possible to operate the same way. I realized this a few weeks ago as I found myself having ten conversations a day with my classmates commiserating about how 24 hours in a day is just too little, but it’s only starting to strike me now. 
I’ve certainly tried to do it all by going the extra mile to free up my time. But somehow, days blend into weeks, weeks to months, and I’m still sitting on that to-do list that’s gotten only marginally shorter. I want to be clear: I’m not saying that medical students don’t have the ability to pursue anything outside of their classes. Looking at the amazing things medical students are doing every day across the country would disabuse anyone of that notion. What I’m saying is that for very disparate career interests, even within the field of medicine, it’s exceedingly difficult to build solid skill sets as a student. For example, I have a strong interest in the innovation happening in the healthtech start-up world, I love writing and medical journalism, I’d like to pursue pharmaceuticals and drug engineering, and I want to do some academic research as well. These aren’t just passing interests; I would commit to doing all of these things as a career to better inform the way I care for patients and approach medicine.
To those reading, it would seem that I’m complaining about growing up. After all, it’s universally true that with adulthood come responsibilities and a narrowing of horizons. First with a college degree, then a focused graduate degree, and then often a more focused job.  I’m not presumptuous enough to think these issues are limited to medical students, or even students. But it’s a little different for us as medical students: we spend those formative 20s (and sometimes 30s), when much of our generation is exploring and trying and doing, in school and in training. Our capacity to extend and challenge ourselves becomes greatly diminished simply because our road consumes so many hours of our days and years of our lives. None of this is new, I realize. And none of this was new to me when I applied straight from college. I’m proud of my decision and excited for the future, but I need to have those difficult conversations with myself now. What do I want to do? Where do I want to make an impact? And as negative as it sounds, what doors am I willing to shut? Since I can’t both invent a device and revamp Medicare (I’m sure someone has, but c’mon, I have to play the odds), what next?  So I’m not complaining about growing up. Instead I’m realizing I can’t so easily take on the world anymore.
So to answer my first question: my Inspiration is being put to use leaving ajar as many doors and creating as many windows as I can. It’s far too easy to get bogged down by grades, and classes, and The Next Step. It’s even easier to shrug off goals because school is just too busy. To all my friends and peers with whom I’ve sympathized about running out of time, I get it. I don’t have the time either. But we have to make the time. We can’t sell ourselves short—the world is ours for the taking, remember?

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