“Your next great adventure awaits you.” So read my horoscope in Aruba’s daily news this morning. My wife (I got married last week, by the way) announced the prophecy as she drifted along in the hotel pool, piña colada in one hand, tattered paper in the other. “You will have a chance to prove yourself.” It was eerie, almost, just how correct the silly superstition was.
I’ve finished medical school. A few days ago my classmates walked across a makeshift dais and received their diplomas. I skipped the day in question; a honeymoon seemed more pressing. With that long-awaited piece of paper, we moved from being student-physicians to becoming the nation’s newest doctors. Our little white coats grew a few inches, and we all stood a little taller, proud of our accomplishment and pleased with the achievements shared by our friends.
Medical school was hard for me. Just as there were high points and victories, there were difficulties and struggles. The academic gauntlet of the first and second years morphed into the stressful rotations of the third and fourth years. Each month brought another test of knowledge, resolve, or patience. For every success or triumph, there came the occasional setback. I’d score a good grade or positive evaluation on one elective, and then agonize over a bad outcome or close call. The frustrations I’ve written of in the past would, at times, seem overwhelming.
But just as the Scorpio soothsaying said, my next journey is just beginning. It’s more monumental than it seems at first, I suppose, when I consider that nearly every move I’ve made over the past four years has been aimed at preparing me for my first few days of residency. Every study session, late night in the hospital, or extra shift on the ambulance was only so that my first hours as a doctor prepared me for three years of on-the-job learning and the medical discoveries waiting for me in residency.
I’m so excited it’s difficult to sit still. Even as I stroll the white sand beaches on my much-needed vacation, my heart beats in anticipation of the weeks to come. My wife, just finishing intern year herself, forbade me from carting Tintinalli across the Atlantic. My mind races with eager thoughts of my first scheduled shift (an overnight on a June weekend!) and the idea of finally growing into the doctor I’ve hoped to become.
But, just like in medical school, the peaks are tempered by valleys. As much as I’m excited for the weeks to come, I’m nervous and anxious about the path ahead. I worry that a knowledge gap — a clinical pearl I missed while cutting out early on a sunny day — could put a patient at risk. I fret that I won’t know the right answer when time is of the essence or that my training up till now will prove inadequate. Most of all perhaps, I worry about disappointing the mentors and role models who have helped me along the way, several of whom are my new attendings. Riding in a car with two of my future senior residents the other day, all I could think was, “Wow, they’re smart.” I confess to breaking open the books that night, anxious about my apparent deficiencies.
For now, though, I’m taking the advice of so many and relaxing before the beginning of my great adventure. The sounds of crashing surf fill my ears and my greatest worry is only that my glass is running low and the blender just seems so far away. My vacation marks the beginning of two journeys I’ve looked forward to for so long, and I know that each will always have its highs and lows, but I’ll need to savor each moment all the same. I hope you’ll stay with me as I don a slightly longer coat to begin my career as an emergency physician.