Unapologetic Retrospective

It takes at least six years to become a physician in Canada; usually eight. Four for an undergrad degree (only two if you’re quite academic), and then four for the MD itself, though some places have a three-year program.

I completed my training at the University of Alberta, which was a fantastic place to train, all told. But it wasn’t easy. Many blogs out there record the woes of medical students, about the hours of study, the angst, the shifts. Some even talk about how grave an influence the lifestyle can have.

The latter years of my training were such. The preclinical (read: lecture and small group) years of med school were decent, but I did get pretty tired of the constant information overload, and I think second year medical students have a very special understanding of procrastination and apathy.

Fortunately, we got a summer break before switching over into the clinical years. Initially, it was not too bad; Gen surg, psych, electives, OBGYN. I had some rocky moments, and lost plenty of sleep to call and studying, but not nearly as much as past physicians have. Then, I hit the difficulty that is Internal Medicine, and then I had the hardest time.

It was at that point halfway through third year where I had to question if the career is worth it. I took time off, recalibrated, addressed some anxieties. I had a vision of a path that would lead to cognitive and ethical fulfillment, but in the way of that was constant barrage of questions on rounds, crippling imposter syndrome, scut, and sleeplessness.

Huh. It sounds incredibly lame when I write it out like that; surely, people who are driven can just tough it through to reap the fruits of their labour. I won’t apologize for being chewed up, any more than I will let an attending tell me that I’m soft for having post-call days or the 26-hour rule. I tell my patients to take care of themselves, and I won’t be made a hypocrite by systemic demands.

No, I did not tough it through Internal medicine. I took the time I needed to hit the next rotation running, and I did. Pediatrics and family medicine were grand, and then there I was: a fourth year.

Fourth year is much better than third. By then, you know how to be a med student (aka how to ask the unit clerk where the danged consult sheets are on the ward, etc.) The rotations are more interesting, and some selectives are involved:  Neurology, Urology, Vascular Surgery, ENT surgery, Geriatrics, Emergency medicine, electives.

Oh, and I had an extended fourth year, too, because the unfinished business from third year couldn’t stay unfinished. I spent more time in Internal Medicine, and you know what? It was fun! I was saddened that, by the time I got there again, I had already finished my CaRMS application.

Ah, CaRMS: the paperwork is frustrating, but the event itself is fun. If you like air travel and seeing a lot of places quickly. The second fun event in my med school career is that I also got to participate in the second round of CaRMS, because there’s no reason why I should have an easy go after already getting a hiccough.

But I matched, and I matched to the specialty of choice. Hint: I’m totally psyched.

I put this out there so that people who are also having a hard time don’t feel like they have to apologize for it. Sometimes it is insurmountable. Sometimes, like that terrible nineties song, you get knocked down, but you get up again. Ain’t never gonna keep me down. (Its a terrible song.) ((Seriously, don’t look it up.))

So for you students out there questioning your own commitment, or your own sanity, please, do what you need to do. You do not have to finish if you don’t want to, but if you’re tortured by ambivalence about it, I’ll say this: If I can claw my way through med school, then you can too. Be smart about it and take care of yourself.



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