I will never forget the first time I introduced myself as Dr. Harmon. There was a brief moment of utter panic, of feeling as if I had just told a lie.
That moment was quickly followed by half a dozen other moments of introducing Dr. Harmon as I swept through my early morning visits before rounds. By the third day, the introduction was routine and I barely thought about it. It was a mantra, a repetition I said so many times I almost did not hear the words as they came out.
Then a few days in, my senior resident referred to me as Dr. Harmon in front of a patient. And the pit of my stomach dropped. It was one thing to declare myself as Dr. Harmon; it felt so much bigger to have someone else decide that I was worthy of the title.
In medical school, there is the occasional resident who will introduce the medical student as “student doctor.” I always found myself squirming internally at this title. It felt wrong, disingenuous. Like claiming a prize someone else won for me. “I am just the medical student. I am the learner on the team.” I would say instead. I claimed that title, that limited, safe role. Doctors were the people I admired, the people who had reached the brass ring, had finished the fantastic and grueling process of medical school. The people who helped, who healed. I had not done that. I was just the medical student.
And then someone wise and experienced draped a green and black fabric circle over my shoulders. And suddenly I was Dr. Harmon.
During my first two weeks of residency, the routine of saying Dr. Harmon felt like introducing a stranger. Dr. Harmon surely is not someone whose intestines twist and tremble when deciding if a child with asthma needs to go the ICU. Dr. Harmon would not frantically check and recheck her orders for IV fluids because she was convinced that she had ordered too much potassium. Dr. Harmon certainly would not be called by radiology because she ordered an MRI to be done both STAT and in two days.
Dr. Harmon sounds like someone confident. Someone smart. Someone who swishes down the long hallway in a crisp long white coat and shoes that clack rhythmically on the floor. Someone a little girl from Ohio dreamed of being most of her life. Someone an 8th grader declared she would become ... even as she accidentally poked the gallbladder of the frog she was dissecting and sprayed bile everywhere. Someone a 19-year-old despaired she would never be when faced with organic chemistry. Someone a 26-year-old whispered she was about to be as she tore open a dark blue envelope holding more than four years’ worth of dreams.
And now, Dr. Harmon is someone I have known for a month. Someone who dashes around the hospital in Walmart scrubs with a duck badge clip, chugging coffee. Someone who frequently changes direction abruptly mid-dash because I realized my patient’s room is on the other side of the hallway. Someone goes to bed wondering if biopsy results will be back by the next day to finally give me the long-awaited diagnosis. Someone who just barely managed to make it out of the hospital room before jumping for joy in a wholly unprofessional manner because a patient’s pain was finally better.
As I knock the facsimile I built of being a physician firmly off its pedestal, I am slowly coming to claim myself: the real Dr. Harmon. I am learning to claim the dynamic, fallible, ever-growing me. Residency has barely started and yet I find myself hyperaware of the delicate balance of being an intern who relies heavily on attendings and senior residents and taking ownership as my patients’ doctor. It is a complex process and a complex identity to take on as an intern. Becoming a doctor has been my dream since I was 12. Actually becoming one is at once euphoric and terrifying.
How did it feel when you finally "met" yourself as a doctor? Share in the comments.
Alexis Harmon is a current pediatrics resident at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. She completed medical school at Duke University in North Carolina before returning to the Midwest for residency.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz