I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile. What did I want to say? What combination of words could possibly represent just a few of my unstructured thoughts from the past four months? I know, four months — that was the last time I wrote something to share “publicly.” That long hiatus wasn’t necessarily intentional, but just kind of happened. The seemingly never ending addition of “need to get done NOW” tasks to my to do list had the unsurprising effect of pushing the “I’d like to do that sometime” tasks (like blogging) into the abyss better known as “maybe tomorrow.”
But anyway, here we are. Here I am. So, uh, hi?
These past four months have certainly been a bit, well, unique. I didn’t blog, but I was somewhat consistent with journaling. I just flipped through the pages dated 2019 and to be honest it amazes me how much I’ve experienced / been challenged by / celebrated / completed since the year started. To catch you up on the “big things,” I finished my second year of medical school, closing the chapter on my pre-clinical/didactic medical education. So that means when I return to school, I’ll be in the lab working towards my PhD in immunology for 3.5 – 5 years before returning to the hospital for a year and a half to complete my MD degree.
That also means I just took my first set of board exams, better known as Step 1.
Entering medical school with such a circuitous route, I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge of “boards” was ultimately nonexistent. I knew that you had to pass tests to prove your knowledge and be licensed, but beyond that, I considered the whole thing to be a problem for future Sam. Funny thing about the future, it does eventually become the present. The last official day of lecture at the beginning of March felt a bit like an out of body experience, realizing how much I knew now compared to my first day of class and recognizing how much I still needed to figure out before my 8-hour exam in April.
Between the end of classes and your exam date you enter into a period of time referred to as “dedicated.” You have no classes to go to, no external commitments besides the ones you make yourself, and are literally dedicated to studying for the exam. Eight, ten, twelve hour days of flashcards, practice questions, board review videos, and whatever other resources you decide to use to try and learn the mountain of knowledge that we currently claim to be truth.
I don’t know if there’s any way to truly describe what the experience of dedicated is like, or I guess, more specifically what my experience of dedicated was like.
There’s something profoundly awesome about that feeling when you finally start to put the pieces together. We learn about the various organ systems in somewhat disparate sections referred to as modules, but obviously that’s not how the body operates. A concept introduced to me way back in December 2018 finally making sense when I could fit it under a larger umbrella that was given to me in February 2019. At the same time, it can also be humbling if not a tad humiliating as you answer question after question wrong on a topic you were once convinced you understood.
Six weeks of study, always wondering if you’re doing enough or if what you’re doing is right. Six weeks questioning if you’ll be able to achieve the score you want to position yourself adequately when you apply to residency. Six weeks of intermittent self doubt as you watch your scores on practice questions fluctuate. Needless to say, I’m pretty convinced boards are as much a test of mental and psychological stamina as they are intellectual stamina…
I also seem to have this ability to attract less than ideal situations in stressful times, like a snow storm in April that resulted in 4 flight changes/cancellations for my return flight from a conference the weekend before my exam. A body that decided to rebel causing me to need two CT scans the week of the exam (no worries though, I’m currently fine and just in the process of trying to figure things out). A car battery that decided to die the day before the exam, making the prospect of going home a tad more challenging (thank goodness for car insurance and parents willing to drop everything to help out). Then there was the hose to my washing machine that disconnected and spewed water all over my condo causing the flooring to start lifting up at the seams the day of the exam….like I said, its been a unique past four months.
All that said, I’m on the other side.
And I have no clue how I did (I’ll find out in a few weeks).
I’m on a bit of a “remember how to be a real person” stretch of time right now. I’m home in Wisconsin, reconnecting with my family and reminding myself of my passion, joy, and purpose. I’m getting caught up on some of the many things that slipped through the cracks (like sleep) and am re-familiarizing myself with the world of research I’ll soon be entering into.
My little sister and I went to a wine boot camp the other day (pretty awesome, right?) and besides drinking a fair amount of delicious wine, I rolled away with some viticulture knowledge I can’t stop thinking about.
Stressed vines produce happy grapes.
Interesting isn’t it? Give grape vines everything they want and you’ll end up with a bottle of watery flavorless wine. Now challenge those grape vines — force them to struggle just a bit, develop some amount of resiliency, to have to work and try again and work some more and you produce a well-developed grape, deep and intricately flavored, matured by their struggle.
I can’t help but think the same thing can happen with people and the struggles we so often face. There’s something to be said about the way we develop and respond in the setting of challenges. The way in which we seek and find support, the manner in which we learn to cope, the shift in perspective we experience as we come to view life through a lens now tinted a slightly different shade.
While I can’t imagine advocating for more stress and struggles,
I can advocate for approaching it with respect.
For choosing not to fear trials, but to instead search for lessons and strength.
For making happy grapes.