My Greatest Fear

In Goals, Medical Musings on March 7, 2012 by David

This past week, we had our last FPC session of the year. In our small group this past year, we have talked about a lot of the most important issues, like our experiences with death, that we don’t have time to talk about during the clinical curriculum. As we transition to the clinical curriculum,  we were asked “what is our biggest fear/worry as we start on the wards?”  It’s hard to imagine that almost two years have gone by, and I will soon be starting in the hospital. As I am about to start on the wards, my greatest fear is unintentional change.

During first year, in FPC one of my classmates talked about her older brother. Now a transplant surgeon, she recalled how he’s changed throughout the course of medical training. He was recently divorced and now just throws himself at his work, without much to his life outside of this. She still remembers him as the kind, gentle, and intelligent person he once was, but her heart breaks for the kind of person he has now become. When his parents are sick, he is a great resource – able to consult to chair of the GI department when they have a medical problem – but over his caring core is an abrasive shell. Being an attending surgeon, in command of surgical field, one comes to develop an expectation of how the people around you will treat you – and this expectation bleeds through into the other, more important, relationships. For better or worse, medicine is a very hierarchical culture. You can be treated poorly by the people above you, especially as people are busy, tired, end frazzled, unfortunately, this normalizes this kind of behavior when you advance, and can affect how you act in other aspects of your life.

That is my greatest fear. To one day, look into the mirror and not recognize the person I have become. Third year will most likely be a busy year, and be over in just a blink of an eye, and I don’t want to wake up next year and wonder how did I get where I am. As we grow older, no one intentionally becomes arrogant, aloof, cold, or impatient, yet these are adjectives that we find can too often describe adults. If we are being honest, these are traits that can especially describe physicians.  In medical school, we hear stores of surgeons throwing temper tantrums when the smallest of things go wrong. A rock’s natural tendency is to roll downhill –  to go with gravity and slide in the path of least resistance. It is just too easy be complacent and without intentional direction, to slip up.

And unfortunately, that is my natural tendency. I am arrogant, too confident in my achievements and accomplishments, even as in my heart I recognize that it not by my ability alone. I am impatient. The past two years, to my dismay, I have felt that my tendency is to be impatient. I am rushing for place to place to study.  I am too easily annoyed when I have to wait on others, yet ironically I am habitually late – making other people wait. Although I usually enjoy talking to people in passing, I find myself avoiding eye contact so I don’t waste time making small talk. As the next year to be even busier, I will need to consciously prioritize relationships and keeping up with people.

Ultimately, I think that my solution. To have meaningful change, I will need to prioritize and have goals. Next year will be the most challenging, the most tiring, and the most important year of my life so far. But in addition to all that, it will also be the best year of my life yet, the culmination of so much of what I have worked for so long. I will see, learn, and do so much in the next year. The next twelve months, as I study for the boards and then go off to the hospital, will be a stressful experience, but it is precisely this stress that is our impetus to improve, grow, and learn.

Originally written on 02/26/2012


One Response to “My Greatest Fear”

  1. Hi there! I really enjoy your blog. It’s thoughtful and insightful! I was wondering what your thoughts were about working hard in life. Isn’t it better to just lead a life of pleasure, with the least effort? Also, I’m curious about your decision to attend medical school. A friend of mine just finished medical school at age 37 and told me that she somehow regretted doing medicine. She just recently got married, but never had enough time for serious relationships. It made me wonder, is it truly worth it to dedicate the best years of your life (20s to 30s I’m assuming) working so hard to improve your future? Because in my opinion, that “future” is probably going to be after age 40, where one will begin to decline physically.

    Maybe I have a misconception about medical school. Is it as difficult/busy as people say? Are all nighters frequent occurrences, and does one not have much time for social activities?

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