I sat hunched over in a coffee shop, staring at the anatomy cards as they quickly appeared and disappeared on my computer screen. I was in the middle of my first semester of medical school and I was feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.
My colleagues and I had just finished a notoriously difficult block of material (fundamentals of pathology), and we were on the cardiovascular system. I clicked discouragingly on the chest cavity anatomy images. Although the courses were going well, my anxiety level had reached astronomical heights, while my confidence had reached new cavernous lows.
As I continued to study without enthusiasm, a lady in a bright floral dress walked past my computer. She must have seen my computer screen because she happily screamed, “Oh! Are you in medical school? “I answered yes, wondering how I could tell from the images of corpses that materialized on my screen.
The woman replied, “Oh that’s great! My husband and I are doctors. We talked about how difficult medical school was on a regular basis. They were dark times. “
My ears perked up.
She continued. “I wish someone had told me how dark medical school could be. It’s hard, but it’s worth a hundred times over. “
I took a deep breath and a smile slowly grew on my face. “Yes, it is definitely difficult.”
The woman continued as her flowered dress swayed in the light streaming in from outside the cafeteria. “I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is an incredible privilege to be able to save someone else’s life. “
I thought to myself: this woman was right. At the end of the day, the struggles I encountered now would pale in comparison to the relief I would help bring to my patients one day. I sat up a little straighter and the woman continued.
“Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. You can do whatever you want to do. I have four children, I practice medicine and I would not change anything. “
I thanked her for sharing her vision with me, and the woman strutted, a flowered dress floating around her.
Although I did not get this woman’s name, her wise words brought me comfort just when I needed it most. I took a sip of my coffee and refocused on my anatomy flashcards with a new sense of determination. The medical school may be dark, but the light on the other side seemed much brighter.
I shared this story with my classmates, many of whom were also feeling exhausted and discouraged. Hearing the story of the Lady in the Flowered Dress brought them a renewed sense of hope that they could carry with them into the next block of the curriculum and throughout their medical career.
Months after our meeting, I still think of the lady in the flowery dress who managed to get rid of my doubts just when I needed them most. There was no way she would know that her words were exactly what she needed to hear that day and would be shared among discouraged students within an entire institution.
Trying to focus on medical studies during a global pandemic is not an easy task. These experiences are weathering us to be hypervigilant future physicians who can focus on patient care during times of crisis.
This is for medical students past, present, and future, who are overwhelmed by medical school. The “dark days” of medical school can seem overwhelming, but these moments are worth a hundred times over for the privilege of caring for patients. And to the woman in the flowery dress: if you’re reading this, thank you.
Olivia Reszczynski is a medical student.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com