In our accelerated curriculum at Harvard Medical School, our third year (MS3) no longer consists of standard clerkship rotations. Instead, third-year advanced clinical electives and subinternships are bookended by our United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 and 2 exams, and all too soon, we are gathering up materials to submit our residency applications. My third year centered on decisions that would impact my life’s direction: my answers to multiple-choice questions on board exams, my ultimate specialty choice—even my choice in life partner and engagement. As I painted my portrait MS3, on the cover of this issue, I recalled my subintern night shifts and early hours prerounding in the pediatric ICU. I recalled unsuccessful codes, hands held, and happy children discharged home. I recalled the growing certainty that I had made the right decisions, on all of these fronts.
My painting MS3 is the third in a series of oil self-portraits (including MS2, on the cover of the August 2020 issue) documenting each year of my medical school experience. I chose oil paint for this series to follow in the tradition of the grand portraits around my medical school campus; I borrowed the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting style of classical portraiture to appropriately highlight my contrasting emotions. The light over my shoulder carries a multitude of meanings, both triumphant and tragic: the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” of my medical school experience, the profound brightness and hope radiating through my pediatric patients and their families, and the light leaving my first patients who passed away under my care. The vertical pane of light also suggests a doorframe—a door that I inevitably must walk through. Perhaps it leads me down my path as a physician and person. Perhaps it simply leads me into the next patient’s room.
In MS3, I depicted myself turning toward that uncertainty, taking the first steps toward choosing my ultimate path. In this portrait, I wanted to immortalize the contrasts and decisions that came with my third year of medical school. As I turned toward the light, I captured myself in that moment of deliberation—scrubs on, pager beeping, stethoscope wrapped around my neck.