Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published under the pseudonym, “Sylvia Tweedam,” as part of a medical school project. The post has been updated to reflect the author’s identity.
After years of hard work and dedication, after agonizing over your grades, your extracurriculars, studying for the MCAT and traveling the country to prove that you have what it takes to follow your calling, you are finally here. You made it to medical school, and you’re ready to do the thing you’ve been excited about for years now.
You went to retreat and orientation. You met tons of really cool, interesting people. You thought about how much fun these next few years are going to be, and how privileged you are to eventually be able to call yourself a doctor.
Then, you sat in on your first few lectures, and reality came crashing down like a ton of bricks. Maybe it was your first anatomy lecture when terms came flying left and right. Maybe it was when the amino acids reared their ugly heads. Maybe it was when a slide contained abbreviations or words that you weren’t familiar with but nobody else around you seemed confused.
Regardless, it rattled you, like approaching an intense roller coaster for the first time, filled with trepidation, contemplating whether or not it was still possible to change your mind.
I remember the feeling of a pit forming in my stomach, when the joy and exhilaration was slowly replaced with an overwhelming sense of dread. I wondered: “Is this more than I can handle? Am I really cut out for this? It’s only been a few days and I already feel so behind.”
For me, imposter syndrome wasn’t just an abstract concept – it was a shadow that seemed to loom over every action I took. I looked to others to see how they were faring, but everybody around me seemed so much better off. I wondered how so many of my classmates were already involving themselves with extracurricular activities, service, research, and shadowing while I was struggling to stay afloat just studying for classes. Everybody around me seemed to have it all figured out, and I couldn’t help but feel inferior in their presence.
Everything came to a head on the day of our White Coat Ceremony. I could only think of how our diagnostic exam was soon to follow, and how I still had to go to Family Day — another event that would take away from my study time. I remembered being annoyed, wondering why they would schedule it that way. I was stressed, annoyed that I needed to arrive at the ceremony a whole hour and a half before it began. While most of my classmates took pictures and socialized, I studied some flashcards for the upcoming exam.
Then, it came time for us to line up and process outside. I looked out into the crowd and saw a sea of families, with my own seated among them. They all beamed with pride for their loved ones who were about to don their white coat for the first time. I saw my classmates, whispering excitedly to each other, cheering one another on as names were called. I watched the huge smiles sweep across their faces and heard the loud applause that erupted as they heard the words: “You may now don your white coats.”
As I felt the same emotions while on that stage myself, it hit me – this weekend isn’t meant to take time away from my studying; it’s meant to remind me to take pride in how far I’ve come and to share that with my loved ones.
I realized how important it was for me to be present in this moment, be present for my family, and to give myself a pat on the back instead of tearing myself down. No matter how confused or stressed we all were (which trust me, we were very confused and stressed), our White Coat Ceremony came at the perfect time to remind us of all the hard work we had put in, and all the support we received from family and friends to arrive here.
Later, we took that diagnostic test, and it was a wake-up call for me in a few ways. Yes, there was the obvious realization that medical school was a much more difficult animal than undergrad had been. But there was also the realization that even my classmates who seemed perfectly put together were struggling, too.
Throughout the rest of our first year, people became more open about their struggles, when they had previously felt the pressure to conceal their feelings of inadequacy. Then, we banded together, pooled our study resources, taught each other the things we were confident in. Our upperclassmen helped carry us with their knowledge and previous experience. There were times that were stressful, but through it all we never stopped lifting each other up.
A few bits of parting advice: Lean on each other, and don’t forget the importance of your friends and family. Never be ashamed if you need to take a break – a 20-minute nap can be more productive than 20 minutes of sleep-deprived studying. Make time for things that help to re-center you. Never be ashamed to seek help; recognize that it makes you strong. And finally, know that we, the MS2 class, are always here to give you an extra boost, just as our upperclassmen did for us.
You were chosen to be here – no mistakes, no catches. You belong here, and you’re going to do great!
-By Michele Cabeza, second-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine