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For your captain obvious insight of the week, I present to you the following information: Medical school is hard.

I’m not saying that I’m surprised by this fact, but I do feel a bit as though someone turned my treadmill up to 11 while I was still in warm-up mode. Or perhaps I should go with the tried and true “drinking from a firehose” metaphor, which I have heard no fewer than five times this past week. (It has become no less accurate with repetition.)

I suppose the real shock to my system is the utter lack of “ramping up” that occurred before between casual-laid-back-if-you-feel-like-it orientation classes and let’s-cover-all-of-cell-biology-in-two-days-and-you-don’t-mind-if-we-slip-two-quizes-and-an-ethics-lecture-in-there-and-oh-by-the-way-here’s-histology. I spent Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday in a partial daze wondering if maybe a pass/fail system wasn’t quite fool-proof enough for me.

As I started to get my footing later in the week, though, I also realized that postbac started much the same way. Those first few days of chemistry, I struggled my way through laughably simple equations like a rusty gear struggling to turn. Sitting in a classroom having utterly no comprehension of what is being said with the sinking sensation that the person sitting next to me is hanging on every word is not as new of an experience as it felt. Sometimes the difference between comprehension and confusion is just a few hours sorting through powerpoint slides and online textbooks in the library.

It’s the first weekend of medical school and I’m still standing, albeit listing slightly. I spent six hours in the library on a Saturday and I have a sneaking suspicious I should have been there longer. I’ve got my game face on and I’m pretty sure this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

I feel like I have started medical school three times already. First there was social orientation, which began with a trip to visit a local historical site. Everyone was nervous and excited and in full-fledged getting-to-know-you mode. Then, of course, there was the first day we had to show up to class and the subsequent four days of academic orientation. More nervousness. Slightly less getting-to-know-you. A small amount of information was conveyed over a long period of time, which was likely a good thing given that all of us were adjusting our schedules to waking up for a morning class. 

Then today, still yawning and surprised to find ourselves awake at 8AM, we had our first actual class. There was a real lecture, a patient interview, a small group session and homework.

We’re not done starting things though. This first class is only three days long, as it turns out, and entirely ungraded. (I’m sure there is a consequence for skipping it entirely, but the pass/fail system hasn’t officially kicked in yet.) Monday we begin biochemistry, when the real chips are down.

All of these overlapping beginnings have left me a bit off-kilter. I feel spread out and unfocused. We’ve been in class all day each day, with dinners and social events in our free time, and only a moment here and there to do the smattering of assigned work. I’ve yet to form a routine, to get a feel for the pattern of day to day life as a medical student. We’re being offered opportunities–clubs, student governments, volunteer work–but I am reluctant to sign up for anything until I know what my time and energy is going to be in the coming months.

I feel like I’m listening to a discordant piece of music. I know there’s a melody in there somewhere, but my brain is stuttering over predicting the next note. Our lecture today abruptly threw a smattering of biochemistry into the discussion and I found myself panicking over my inability to take good notes. I couldn’t piece together what was relevant or important. I forgot to click in a quiz question because I was distracted trying to figure out where we were in the lecture. I have not bought a single book. I am assured that is okay, but I’m apprehensive about reading most of the medical literature on my computer.

Amidst all of this I keep checking in with myself and asking, “Do I feel like a medical student yet? Have I really started medical school yet?” Thus far the answer has been, “Um…sort of?”

Two days from now is our white coat ceremony. Perhaps once I have my official doctoral vestments I will feel like this all is really happening. After all, seeing “Medical Student” on my ID badge filled me excitement, perhaps seeing my name embroidered across a pristine white coat will do the trick.

Maybe I should bring my stethoscope too…just in case.