Hoping for a better sense of self? Maybe applying to residency will help

Time is crazy in the sense that moments can pass in the blink of an eye, or seem to last a lifetime (ie. waiting for your apple update to load, Dovetale training, getting stuck behind slow moving people and cars).

While applying to the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) – what’s known as the NRMP in the US – felt like an intensely slow, arduous process, I simultaneously felt like I was stuck in a pressurized boiler. Maybe it’s because I went through almost daily quarter-life crises, but these introspective weeks left a strong impression. They forced me to think about who I am, what’s important to me, what skills I have, what skills I wish I had, and all the things that are critical for me to stay sane.

In these weeks, I particularly realized the importance of friends, of family, of running, of stress-relieving hobbies such as knitting and of doing things other than obsessing about applications. Just ruminating about myself and on how to turn my weaknesses into strengths probably would have driven me crazy. You can only read through your application a certain number of times before the words all blur together.

Applying to residency is like applying to medical school all over again, but this time, with the added pressure of determining who you’ll be and where you’ll end up in the not-so-distant future. Applying to residency is like applying to be an adult – you’re finally taking that step into the real world, where your line of credit is no longer an excuse to YOLO. Before medical school, you have a lot of choice. You may be accepted to one, to four, to twenty schools across the country or across continents. You can choose to be by the beach, suffer through bitter cold winters, or decide that your true calling is actually in business or fashion and skip medical school altogether. Regardless of your background in university, you have a crazy amount of choice throughout these formative years that can leave you dazed and confused, but also optimistic and determined.

When I applied to medical school, I knew that my seven-year-old dreams could withstand the test of time. I indulged in my other passions – business, healthcare technology, travel, research – but becoming a doctor was always the ultimate goal. Once you’re in medical school your interests become more focused. Where previously you engaged in global health as a primary interest, now you think about these skills and how you can apply them to your future practice. Where previously you did hobbies for fun, now you do them because they keep you grounded after long shifts at the hospital. Where before, you could take classes like philosophy, ocean sciences and negotiations because they sounded interesting, now you take courses on evidence-based medicine, medical education and pharmacology because you believe they will make you a better, more well-rounded provider. What I love about medical school is your ability to take all the passions you’ve accumulated over the years, and turn them into something productive for society. With this MD degree, you have the ability to leave a legacy – but what that legacy is is up to you.

While I love reading travel blogs like this one: I am Aileen, and occasionally wish I could run off for a life on the road, I’m pretty sure my school, the Canadian government, the bank and my parents would hunt me down pretty quickly. But through your experiences in medical school, you realize that being a medical student, and soon to be physician do not preclude you from also being yourself. Applying to residency, and all the steps leading up to application submission on November 21st, helped me learn more about myself, my achievements, my failures, and the challenges that have shaped my personality and my ambitions.

They say that you should know your CV intimately for interviews, but more importantly, your CV can help you understand what’s important to you. What electives did you do over the course of medical school, who were your most influential mentors, what extracurricular activities did you participate in, what hobbies did you keep despite time and resource limitations. Writing my personal statements was even more so a challenge in distilling everything I’ve done in my life, understanding the story I’ve woven, and highlighting the things that stand out. A question that has repeatedly popped up while going through this process is why? Why did I apply to the specialties I did, why do my experiences make me a good fit, and why do I think I’m qualified to be in these fields?

At the age of twenty-four, I’ve watched my friends go into a variety of fields – into consulting, investment banking, research, and marketing, as well as pursue MBAs, Masters and PhDs. If you ask most millenials where they’ll be in 10 years, the answer is usually uncertain. There’s usually a goal in mind but the journey there is far from set in stone. They have all of these choices, whether they want to make partner at their firm in 10 years, whether they want to make a lateral move into another field, or whether they want to move to Africa and work for a NGO.

While medicine is by no means a locked box, on match day, when that final decision comes out, you’re effectively committed to whatever is written in that email. Whether that is your top choice program, your tenth choice program or no match at all. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I’m taking a plunge into the deep end. The plunge into adulthood, where I will be responsible not only for myself, but for the lives of others. The decisions I make can and will impact the patients I serve, and my mistakes could, for the first time, be life threatening.

The idea of starting residency is like the open water scuba diving course I finished this weekend. They teach you all of these skills in the pool – how to put your gear together, how to share air and rescue other divers, how to fix problems that come up and how to be safe but have fun at the same time. After the weekend-long course, it was time to go into open water for four deep water dives (felt pretty blessed that these could be done anywhere in the world ie. Mexico and Panama, as opposed to the freezing waters of eastern Canada), to review all the skills we learned under the supervision of a trained instructor. I recently finished two of four dives in Mexico, but it won’t be until I finish the last two dives that I’ll be fully certified and deemed ready for deeper open water dives. In the ocean, everything is a lot bigger, mistakes are more dramatic, and things can truly go wrong. If you’re not prepared in the pool, you certainly will not be prepared in the ocean. Much like the path to becoming a doctor, where you first get eased in as a medical student, practice and hone your skills as a resident, and finally, prepare for independent practice as a staff physician, it’s important to learn the basics in a low-stakes environment before facing the reality of responsibility.

Two-and-a-half years in medical school, I still can’t believe I will carry a “Dr.” before my name from May onwards (hopefully). It’s a huge privilege but also a humbling responsibility. There will be people trusting my advice, and patients for whom I can make difference. I’m excited, I’m terrified, and I feel as if time has rushed by, constantly yelling back at me to catch up. I feel like just yesterday I was a first year medical student, who had yet to do my first history and physical exam, and had not experienced the thrill of the OR or the reward of seeing patients improve over time. Although CaRMS is far from over, and we have interviews coming up way too soon, this application process has been an incredible growing process, and has demanded introspection into everything that makes me, me.I mean what is medicine but a commitment to lifelong learning?

Of course, all of this being said and done, it’s important to stay sane while going through this process, take those holidays in Mexico, do that half-marathon, share a bottle of wine with friends.

Now that Part I is over, I guess I’m a little more ready to tackle Part II: the interviews. There will definitely be more ramblings to come.

 

 

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