I found myself staring into a bowl of cereal in my boxers the other night wondering where time has taken me. Soon, I will be starting my senior year of college. In theory, I have gathered enough experience, made enough mistakes, and taken enough tests to be considered an expert on being a PreMed. On my first day of college, I guessed that between my first day of freshman year and the days leading up to my senior year I would learn the majority of knowledge concerning science. Not only was I obscurely wrong, but I learned just the opposite: science is nearly infinite, with details that would require a lifetime to learn.
In fact, most seniors come to the same conclusion and face a serious question: If science is infinite, what does that make medicine? It made me wonder whether the past few years spent with my nose in books have been useful. Certainly I have learned plenty of challenging scientific information, but to say that four years of being a PreMed amount to a handful of scientific knowledge and nothing else seems to miss the point. I have learned a lot as a PreMed – information that is not necessarily bound in a book, but instead somewhere in between all of that. Somewhere between the confines of line after line of chemistry, physics, and biology, PreMeds will learn about life’s gifts.
Saying the phrase “Life’s gifts” seems to have positive connotations. However, the bits of unsaid knowledge that you seem to pick up between lectures and late nights are a balance between easy and difficult to accept. Life as a PreMed is more like the strange uncle at a Christmas party that you haven’t seen in several years: sometimes the gifts he gives are funny and heartwarming, and sometimes they are strange and unwanted. As a senior, I feel obligated to share the “gifts” I have been given, and would guess that most seniors would feel the same.
Gift #1: Your work deserves your heart
Unite your passions with your work. Many people think this means to work at enjoying their homework and lecture experiences a little more. However, that is only half of the picture. Your work as a PreMed also pertains to the relationships you hold, the conversations that you have, and the things you do for fun. In a sense, do everything as if it were the last time you were doing it. Just as you should pour your heart into studying, you should pour your heart into people, goofing off, and sleeping.
Gift #2: You’re never as good as you think; you’re never as bad as you think
What I wish somebody would have explained is how dangerous a lack of confidence can be, and how equally dangerous a lack of humility is. Live your journey somewhere in the quite confidence of your ability – neither too outward about yourself nor too disregarding. Nobody balances the two perfectly, including some of best doctors in the world, but they will help you become more rounded as a future doctor.
Gift #3: It’s only a test
A single bad grade can make all the hours and hard work put into a test seem insignificant. At this point, you are one post-test panic and some absurd medical school entrance statistic away from giving up. Here is the statistic that you should probably read instead: studies suggest 100% of people in the world are incredibly human. Fortunately, everybody makes mistakes. Unfortunately, even the greatest doctors do too. I have come to learn that test performance could never define the doctor you will be. Sometimes being a PreMed is more about how you respond to mistakes. If you get a bad grade, be secure in who you are. After all, you are one step closer to the good life.
Gift #4: You will always learn
Instead of having it figured out, I am realizing that I have only learned enough about science and life to ask deeper questions. Accepting the wisdom that comes with experience is a paradox. In other words, being a senior is not a final destination, but merely a ticket to bigger and better places of discovery. It is both a beautiful and hard realization to think that we are called to seek, to discover, and to enjoy life’s gifts for a lifetime. Just when you think you have learned something for good, it gets a little more complicated and demands a little more self-attention.
If science is nearly infinite, then medicine’s intricacies require us to play a game of chess that never quite ends. If that is so, then being a PreMed merely prepares us to play the game. We strategize, we plan, and we attack. Still, one thing is for certain: experience gives us gifts – gifts that can be funny and heartwarming, or ones that you might wish you could rewrap and give back to your strange uncle from time to time.