Who do we think we have to be when we enter medicine and what do we leave behind in order to become that version? When do we go back to pick up those pieces of ourself that we let go of, or more tragically, are they gone forever?
Sara is currently involved in The Healer's Art Course for first and second year medical students and it touches on essential themes to our humanness and remaining 'whole' in the practice of medicine. If we examine our own personal trajectories of medical education and beyond, do we see crumbs of ourself trailing behind?
If we break it down, for some of us, it may have looked something like this:
Somewhere between high school and undergrad you made a push to bolster your chances of getting into medical school and started volunteering, researching, high level extracurricular activities, MCAT prep courses and other such shiny med-school worthy activities. It may have started to become fuzzy on what you wanted to pursue versus feeling you 'had to' pursue.
You got into medical school and felt buried beneath the amount of information you had to absorb in the first two years so you slowly lost some parts of what you previously enjoyed doing. You may also unknowingly have lost parts of who you were.
Clerkship hit and it was full steam ahead once again trying to boost your CV and chances of getting into your desired, or settled on, residency. This is also when you realized how little time you had to truly explore your options before competition fear set in.
The relief or disappointment that came with the match results was quickly replaced by a gruelling intern year that felt a lot like a twisted version of Survivor. Some days you looked in the mirror and questioned the reflection looking back - you had all but forgotten what brought you pleasure or the important parts of who you were.
The rest of residency required you to put on a professional mask before entering your training environment because your evaluations in your chosen profession depended on it. Some days you just couldn't don the mask only to be looked upon as a weak link in the resident chain.
You finally finished medical training and thought the challenging parts were all but behind you only to realize that practising medicine as an attending made you feel like a hamster on a wheel, where the wheel was the system, and there was no end destination and no inherent efficiency.
With burnout and all of the potential mental health sequelae, you started picking up the pieces of you you left behind knowing it was the only way to feel whole again. You threw away the mask, exposed your vulnerabilities, and started the life-saving re-connection with the missing pieces of yourself.
Our hope for the younger generations - the awareness that it doesn't have to be this way. Masks only hide the imperfections of who we are, the parts that keep us whole and keep us connected to others.
"Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you - all of the expectations, all of the beliefs - and becoming who you are." ~ Rachel Naomi Remen