I’ve had a conflicting transition into 3rd year.
After I took the USMLE step 1, I jettisoned off for 2 weeks in Europe, the majority of which I spent on a solo adventure. It was my first time traveling alone, and even though it wasn’t even for a whole 2 weeks it changed everything.
You see, for the two years leading up to this trip, I had sold my soul to medical school – the harshest of masters. It held ransom almost everything that I had, the only way I survived it was by sacrificing what little I had left. I learned to be disciplined and embraced the concept of “delayed gratification” to its fullest extent. At first it was challenging of course, but you get used to it. My cooping mechanism was withdrawal – and it made it easier by pretty much losing contact with all my friends who weren’t also in medical school. This way everyone that I surrounded myself with was doing the same thing and making the same sacrifices. It almost seemed normal.
But then I left.
For those two weeks, I experienced the exact opposite of this. I wasn’t restrained or tied down. I practiced no delayed gratification. I allowed myself to be a 23 year old who did what I wanted, when I wanted to do it. Every moment was spontaneous and authentic and unchained. I loved every single second of it.
I met the most incredible people. People who came from all over the world and all kinds of lives. We talked about real problems and real life (and yes a lot about Donald Trump). No one cared if I knew the pathophysiology of ARDS or the mechanism of action of abciximab. No one cared that I was in medical school. It was the most incredible feeling.
Now you may be thinking “Well Tessa to be fair, no one really cares that you’re in medical school,” and that may be true. But growing up in the SDA community, going to Loma Linda and getting my MD kind of seemed like the pinnacle of what you could become. I still often get this kind of reaction from people in the Loma Linda community or even when I go home. While it is wonderful that so many people respect and support what I am doing, it adds to the pressure (that medical school already instils) to be something more than who I am.
The combination of the freedom I felt and being surrounded by wildly free spirited individuals allowed for those two weeks to be the first time in years where being in medical school didn’t define every aspect of who I was.
I remembered that there is a world outside of medicine, and it awoke in me a desire I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I used to compare myself to my older brother. If you don’t know him, he is one of the most talented and well rounded people that I know. He has vast areas of passions from modifying cars to leading worship music to fine art photography. I always saw myself as the opposite of this. I had one interest – medicine, and the fact that I had only one passion allowed me to be ok with offering up the rest of my life on the alter of medical school.
But then I walked onto an airplane and stepped out of my world for two weeks, and I realized that I have more passions than just medicine and my passion for medicine seems to be conflicting with all the others.
So when I returned, I went through a mourning period. At first I thought that maybe I was just missing the people that I met, knowing that I will probably never see them again. But it turns out the person that I was missing – was me.
I felt as if my soul was being shoved back into a cage and my heart was fighting it as hard as it could. I told this to my parents and friends and people started talking about maybe taking a year off, which I seriously considered. But I also knew that if I left now I would never come back.
I wish it was as simple as realizing that medicine isn’t for me, but that isn’t it at all. The conundrum is that heart is split in two. There is a part of me that belongs out in the wild with my fellow free spirits running off to the corners of the world. There is also a part of me that belongs here in the midst of the most intelligent, intense, competitive and driven people I know. I can see that in the future I can make this work. Someday, when I am done with medical school and residency, I can find a way to satisfy both sides of me and create a mosaic, unconventional lifestyle to allow myself to thrive and grow.
Once actual rotations started, things got better. I’m on an away rotation so I am able to explore a new town and have new experiences. This year really is a whole new adventure and I get to meet new people with fascinating stories every day (Last week I met a patient who was once attacked by a toothless tiger, how awesome is that?!) with the added bonus that I get to apply all my learning to try and help them.
Then last week this world suffered a true loss when a friend of mine died.
I was slapped in the face with my own mortality once again. Suddenly sitting in a coffee shop studying for a few hours for an upcoming exam feels intolerable. All I can think about is what if I died tomorrow? Would spending my whole adult life stuck in coffee shops and libraries be worth it? Absolutely not.
But what if I quit school today and happened to live until I’m 90? Would I be happy with the life I lived? Or would I regret giving up something I am truly passionate about? Probably.
So my heart remains torn, pulled apart by two currently incompatible worlds. For now I’ve chosen medicine, but I’m terrified that over these next few years, I may begin to forget myself again. I’m worried that by the end of all of this I will have completely lost this flame my soul so recently discovered. Will I reach the end and find myself complacent and willing to settle for the mundane? What happens when I step back into my cage and my fire burns out?