I was recently invited to speak at a college/career workshop about the tools necessary to succeed in medical school and beyond. As I thought back to the days of undergrad when all I wanted was to get into medical school, I reminisced about the trials and tribulations it took for my goal to be reached. The path to MD was a long, winding road filled with uncertainties, drawbacks, hurdles, and triumphs. Though not easy to navigate, this road ultimately helped shape my thoughts on medicine and my current practice as a physician.
Going down memory lane, I recognized how much strength and character I had gained over the years. During this 10-plus year journey, I have evolved from an unsure 20-something-year-old to a young woman who is surer of herself than ever before. I can still recall the nights I would pray to God asking Him to let me pass my organic chemistry exam, or the snowy days I would trudge through to get to an MCAT review course in the hopes of learning how to crush the exam.
The young lady who had nothing but a college meal plan and a dream was constantly worried—she worried that she wouldn’t get into medical school, worried she would do nothing with her life, worried she would become a failure. Clearly, none of that is true now, but I recognize the weakness in my self-perception was based on my lack of preparedness for the future. Sure, I knew the prerequisites necessary to apply for medical school, but I was unaware of the mental and social tools I needed to triumph. The weakness in how I perceived myself, in turn, impacted my self-esteem much into the beginning of my medical career.
As I prepared for the speaking engagement I decided to use it as an opportunity to share my story with the young students who would be attending. Rather than harp on the mandatory prerequisites for medical school (which can easily be found through a Google search), I decided to focus on things I wish I had known during my journey to MD. Here are the things I wish my younger-self had known:
Know Your Why: Identify and be confident about the reason you want to become a physician. This will help you get through the tough times (and there will be plenty) as well as help you stand firm In your decision when thoughts of quitting or self-doubt arise
Be Prepared for Criticism: Many people will attempt to discourage you; with the rising cost of medical school fees, decrease in payment reimbursements, and continued malpractice suits, the field of medicine does not seem to be the smartest financial plan for any young person. The views of others can often dissuade you or make you feel like you are not making a sound decision (and possibly ruining your life), however, see the criticism as the fuel you need to achieve your goal. This leads me to my next point.
Be Your #1 Cheerleader: No one knows the burning desires in your heart as much as you do. It is essential to have confidence in yourself no matter how tough things get. Something as simple as looking in the mirror and saying, “I believe in myself, I can do it,” can give you the energy necessary to surpass whatever challenges you are facing. Faith in yourself is noticeable; others will soon follow suit once they recognize the internal light within you.
Medicine is Lifelong Learning: Though you may feel like all you want to do is finish medical school, learning never ends. From residency to your first years as an attending, the learning curve is steep and you will continue to climb. Recognizing that as the human body evolves so will our knowledge of its mechanism will help you understand the fact that you can never stop reading, can never stop questioning. Medical journals, conferences, certification exams will continue to be a part of your life and will ultimately allow you to be a better clinician and scientist.
Time Management Skills Are Essential: With the onset of electronic medical records, online billing, and documentation queries, you can easily become so consumed with daily written rhetoric that you forget the most important part—the patient. Practicing medicine is a never-ending task of trying to make enough time to see patients and fulfilling administrative and non-clinical obligations. It is essential to learn at an early stage how to effectively and efficiently see patients and complete paperwork. Time management extends out of the clinical setting and into personal life as well. If caution is not taken, patient and clinical care can override your personal life, leaving little time to enjoy things that make you who you are. Learn early how to separate your personal life from medicine and how to enjoy things outside of work. This will make you a more well-rounded physician and one that patients can easily relate to
Be Wary of Social Media: Facebook was in its initial stages while I was an undergraduate student. While it was not the major social media source that it is now, it was still widely popular amongst students. From profile pictures to status changes, Facebook was as important to us as our class notes and became a part of the social construct of not only our lives but the lives of people worldwide. Over the years, several other online platforms have been created and they all provide the opportunity to connect with individuals around the world.
With the increase in social media there is also heavy scrutiny over what is said on the internet. Therefore caution must be taken when writing or posting personal views, stories, articles, videos, etc. What can seem like a harmless picture from your 20s may cause great harm to your career or personal life in your 50s. Sharing “personal thoughts” may not be void of consequences and therefore may at times be better off kept within your thoughts. Social media is a great tool that has even improved health care, but it should be used with caution and its impact on your career not taken for granted.
Things Do Get Better: During undergrad and medical school, I often wondered when I would finally “see the light at the end of the tunnel,” as the saying goes. When would the laboring end and when would I finally “live life”? As I consistently missed family events and milestones in the lives of others, I wondered if I would somehow ever be able to do something other than study, work, then study some more.
As an attending now, I can sincerely say that my best life has not even started. With all of my schooling finally behind me, I can do all that I didn’t do when I was younger and more. I can travel, shop, and enjoy pleasantries much more than I could have in my younger years. The financial benefits of being a physician outweigh the worry of missing out. The weight of being a student (though as previously stated learning never ends) has been lifted. The best is yet to come.
You Are Essential: Several jobs and careers will come and go but the role of the physician stays the same. As a healer, encourager, practitioner, and specialist amongst other things, your role is imperative to the progression of mankind. You are needed in every corner of the globe and your contributions are appreciated. No matter how difficult the path may get, always remember that you are going to make a difference in the lives of many, making it all worth it.
What things do you now know that you wish you had been aware of as a student?
Dr. Akua Ampadu is a hospitalist physician passionate about quality inpatient and outpatient adult care. As a survivor of work and life related burnout, she aims to provide tools necessary to live a life focused on self-care and self-advocacy. She is also recognizes the importance of reading to one’s health and created Healing Words Foundation in 2016, a literacy-based charity focused on providing books to pediatric wards and outpatient clinics. She is active on social media.
Dr. Ampadu is a 2018–2019 Doximity Author.