Medical

Dear Me, M3 | Love Me, MD

Dear Me, M3:
As graduation approaches and the days of fourth year freedom quickly fade away, the terrifying reality of being a stupefied intern becomes more and more paralyzing. Self-doubt started as a whisper but is slowly escalating to a deafening scream. I have read and re-read the letter you wrote in attempt to silence the negativity— to remember how I felt as a naive third year student trying to navigate the world of clinical medicine— to remind myself of a time when graduation was an unforeseeable future and matching into residency seemed like an absurd possibility. Undoubtedly, your foresight advice will sharpen my self-awareness and hold me accountable to be kind and compassionate, to stay humble. Yet, in order to reassure myself that I will make it, to bury the self-doubt, it is time for some self-to-self hindsight advice— time to remind myself of lessons learned along the way. So here it goes:
In 2010, you were rejected from medical school— rejected so many times it was too demoralizing to count— surely it was more than 30. Not one interview invite. It was embarrassing and disappointing. You quickly learned that the rest of the world did not think you were as special as your own sweet mother always promised you were. Your ego was stomped on only to reveal what egos often disguise—self-esteem in need of a boost. You didn’t know it until much later but life was teaching you its most important lesson— learning how to fail. In doing so, you learned you aren’t the brightest, smartest, or most talented. And you certainly are not privileged in the eyes of the world. But maybe that doesn’t matter after all because you are resilient, perseverant and obnoxiously determined— traits you didn’t know you had until you learned how to fail. The fear of failure is much worse than the act itself. In fact, learning how to fail ironically taught you how to succeed. You are no longer scared of falling flat on your face because now you know you always get back up. No matter how hard you fall, you will never let go of the humility failure taught you—you fail successfully.
After championing failure, you snuck into medical school off of the waitlist. You anxiously waited for the email where they told you they made a mistake, but it never arrived. So, you started medical school determined to prove to yourself you could do this. It was not about scoring the highest on an exam or being at the top of your class; you just wanted to learn— learn as much as you possibly could to build a sturdy foundation for the rest of your training. Yes, you learned anatomy, physiology and pathology— the list goes on. You even gave microbiology and immunology a try, but whoa bacterial and T-cell warfare were not your friend. Nevertheless, you fulfilled all of the educational requirements to walk across that stage in a couple of weeks. That was the goal, after all. With your head buried in the books and your heart focused on the finish line, you did not see everything else medical school was teaching you. Now that you are at the end and the books are temporarily closed, you can see clearly. And maybe what you see is more important than what you studied—the lessons finally uncovered. So here they are:
First, never forget to laugh— roaring belly laughter is the new fad diet. Hold on to your sense of humor equally as tight as your humility. Certainly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Compare yourself to no one. Doing so will only enhance your self-doubt and make you feel less than what you are. Forget about test scores —measure your success not in percentiles, but by how hard you work, by how many times you make people smile. Be easier on yourself —we were made to balance each other. Self-awareness will allow you to accept that your weakness is another’s strength—that’s okay. You undoubtedly have strengths others will borrow.
It is true that hard work and dedication are important. But, don’t engage so deeply that you neglect the people who matter most. Your success is owed to their unwavering support and selfless sacrifice. Some say life begins after medical school and residency. I disagree. Life is happening now—it will not wait for you to catch up. Find satisfaction in balance and make everyday count. Have fun—be happy now.
So, here is to stomping on self-doubt— to remembering where you have been and celebrating where you will go. The thought of residency is intimidating. A new challenge will be met with fun and excitement. Just like the fear of failure, the anticipation of the unknown is the worst part. Yes, you will start out knowing nothing. You will wonder how everyone else knows so much more. You will question yourself daily. You will try and you will fail. But, hindsight will always reassure you that you will be okay. This letter is a reminder of the lessons uncovered—a reminder that you fail successfully.
Love,
Me, MD

D
Danielle Bottalico a 4th-year medical student who recently matched into an ENT residency. Danielle Bottalico a 4th-year medical student who recently matched into an ENT residency.