Year In Review.

In Goals, Misc. on July 11, 2011 by David

It’s been a little more than a year since I came to San Francisco. I arrived June 10th of last year to start research. This past year has been the hardest year I have ever had. I had a difficult time adjusting to San Francisco, felt far from home and alone, and was not sure about my identity. I really enjoyed medical school and my new peers, but throughout the first year, I felt a sense of turmoil – a tension and conflict between who I am, who I seek to be, and how others perceive me.

Coming to medical school as an MD/PhD, I thought a joint degree would be an opportunity to delay choice. I both love medicine and science, and was not sure what I really wanted to what I ultimately wanted to pursue. I felt privileged to have this great opportunity, but for me there was the constant tension of the realization that to do something great, one would need to specialize and ultimately choose one passion. I hoped that over the course of eight years, I would be able to better understand myself and can reevaluate my choices and options. I thought a joint degree would give me more exposure to both science and medicine, and the tools to pursue both.

But having finished my first year in medical school, I have conclusion that a joint degree is not simply the sum of medicine and science training. It is something different – in the middle yet entirely distinct. It is not equal parts medicine and research, it is an intersection that can only be described as medical research that takes elements from both but also rejects characteristics of both. And with this training comes the implicit expectation that one would end up doing medical research, not medicine or research. Although not entirely explicit, I felt MSTPs had a subtle sense of disapproval for those who ultimately ended up in solely medicine or solely science, so many graduates end up in the twilight zone I’ve termed medical research.

For me, being MSTP felt like a source of constant conflict. When doing research, I dream about being back in school and in clinic. When bored in class, I daydream about what I could do with these idle hands back at the lab. There was a tension, partially driven by a sense of urgency in knowing that the training is so long and wondering why I am wasting time, but mainly driven by a sense of mistaken identity.

Truth be told, I never felt truly comfortable in the role of MSTP. They are big shoes to fill. I never liked it when there were jokes about MSTPs being smart. In fact, I actively disagree. I think MDs are no different from MSTPs in terms of ability, just a different in interests and background. I squirm when singled out as an MSTP, because with the title comes expectations. An expectation that I enjoy all kinds of science and all types of research, when in fact developmental biology and other vast fields of science bore me to death. An expectation that I don’t enjoy the “touchy-feely” stuff, although like science, there are aspects I really like. The conflict has struck at the very heart of me – ultimately, this past year, I was not sure who I am and what my identity was.

Conversely, If there is anything I am sure about, it is that one needs to focus to succeed. To have too many fingers in too many projects, one will surely fail at them all. Throughout both high school and college, I always got myself involved into many projects, many interests, and many activities. I had a hard time distinguishing “many” from “too many”. Although I was fortunate to never crumple under the weight of too many responsibilities – things always worked out, I see now that this is a sign of immaturity. It is a sign that I do not know what I am truly called to do. I reminded of a good quote – “beware the barrenness of a busy life”. Despite the constant pressure to be busy and productive, I will take the next month to be still, to be calm, and rest before I start again.

I have decided that life is too short to live by other people’s expectations. There is a quote that really stuck with me – “The measure of a person is a how many uncomfortable conversations he or she can initiate.” In fact, I am glad that I had a difficult year. I had the opportunity to grow as a person and more realistically solidify my self-identity and expectations for the future. The discomfort is only a sign of growth.

I look forward to living for myself again.


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