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This post was originally written as a journal entry. I wrote it on May 22nd 2012, but am publishing it now on a friend’s urging. Enjoy!

Yesterday was my medical school graduation. I went in barely able to register the fact that I could legitimately be called doctor after this. It still barely registers, but I’m a little more used to it now. However, I’m now terrorized by the weight of that responsibility on my shoulders. To be worthy of the title, in my mind, is to be trusted. It means I take responsibility for my decisions, and that I might actually be expected to provide answers to someone’s problems. I have to be both sympathetic to people’s problems but cold when they are asking for things that would hurt them. I have to be caring and feeling, but also be a skilled, scientific diagnostician. So much to do and be all at once!

This feeling is eerily like when I was a pre-med. I remember feeling like I had to be better than the thousands of pre-meds that were vying for entrance into the 126 odd medical schools in existence at the time – many of them from Ivy-league institutions. I remember every final exam was like a death-sentence. I think I secretly wish I could be like that again. I was good at what I did at the time. Oh lord. Do you get the feeling that your success is way too dependant on your pathological behavior at times?

Even our commencement address was inspiring at the time, but now it feels burdensome. I worked hard to try to remember what was said. It was by Dr. Peter Carmel, president of the AMA, and a neurosurgeon. I have my issues with the AMA, but I have always had respect for this man. He is faculty at my school and I have heard him speak many times. He told us 5 things:

  1. Some people believe that to be a good doctor, you have to know everything, but being empathetic is just as important, if not more important. However, some people take the feeling thing over-board – remember, it is important to be a skilled diagnostician as well. In summary – Think, Feel, and Listen.
  2. Keep an open-mind. Med-students have a tendency to try to plan out everything in their life. Allow medicine and your career to unfold as well. Let medicine be a path of self-discovery as you allow your interests to guide you.
  3. Find a mentor. This will be invaluable in your journey as you progress.
  4. Join organized medicine. It is imperative as doctors that we advocate for ourselves and for our patients, so as not to allow medicine to be hijacked as it has by corporate and political interests.
  5. Hang in there. No matter how hard you try, sometimes you fail. He reminded us of an anecdote. He was an intern and rarely got to operate. One day he was operating with an attending neurosurgeon, when he felt movement. He looked up, only to see his attending shaking his head. Then, he summed up what Dr. Carmel said was “all of neurosurgery” into one sentence in his thick Hispanic accent: “Carmelo! Don’t put the fingers in the brain!”

The last one was my favorite. It was a relief to hear his good-natured jab at his own mistakes, because it was about how someone like him could make mistakes and still be here, a successful doctor. Hopefully my mistakes will be little ones and my successes will be big. Wish me luck!

DS

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