It’s been awhile since I have written anything. My brief hiatus can be attributed to a minor obstacle known as the USMLE step 1. Essentially, it’s a final exam that encompasses the first two years of medical school. An exam that is necessary to pass to become a physician. An exam that it is necessary to do exceedingly well on if you have hopes of being a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist. Luckily, I have no such hopes.
Nonetheless, I did my best to pour myself completely into my studies for the month leading up to the exam, thus the break from blogging. It probably worked out in everyone’s best interest that I was not writing anything during that period because it would have probably turned out in one of two ways: composed of shorthand and enough misspelled words to make it illegible, or a vent of my stress that would read as a repetitive oscillation between depression and rage. It’s been a tough time in our household.
Given the cacophony of emotions I experienced in the weeks leading up to this exam (terror, apathy, depression, anger, hunger, more anger, etc.), I was surprised by the emotion that won out as I was driving to the testing center. It was gratitude. It is strange that with the prospect of an 8 hour exam on the horizon that I was feeling grateful, but in those moments it became incredibly real to me just how significant this exam was… Not for my future, but from my past.
I got to this point by a whole series of events that relied on hard work, good luck, answered prayers and a whole community of people supporting me, encouraging me, and helping me.
Let’s rewind back to my senior year of high school. Obviously, there were contributory events that preceded this point, including my parents making a conscious effort to move to one of the best school districts in the area, teaching me how to read, how to love reading, and how to work hard. In fact, everything that my parents taught me in my childhood warrants its own post. To be continued…
Anyways. Senior year, I went on my first international mission trip. My parents, along with four other adults and several teenagers (including me) spent a week in El Salvador serving food, teaching VBS, doing manual labor and mostly just coming to understand that we were getting far more out of it than the people we were theoretically serving. Not that the local people didn’t benefit from our work, but the experience was life-changing for all of us. I don’t think any of us suspected at the time just how significant the repercussions would be.
The book I had selected for the trip was one I’d borrowed from my brother: Tracy Kidder’s Mountains beyond Mountains. (In fact, I still have it… one look at the dog-eared, spine broken, stained and dusty wreck of a book I brought home and my brother generously gave it to me…. and said I could buy him a new one). The book tells the story of Paul Farmer’s labor of love in Haiti. You can read more about Paul Farmer here, or about the organization he founded here. Of course, I recommend the book as well. In it, a picture is painted of a man who genuinely cares for his patients. He cares for them more than his own salary, his own life and possibly even his own family. The multitude of sacrifices he makes in order to prioritize his patient care is astonishing. It is also infectious. You get the feeling that Paul Farmer is a man who has never believed it when someone told him he couldn’t do something. He wanted to treat the sick, and it didn’t matter that they were poor, underserved or remote – he did it anyways.
Being in a place as destitute as Nejapa, El Salvador while reading this book was quite the combination punch to my impressionable psyche. I think on that trip was when I figured out the kind of doctor I wanted to be. Not what specialty, but what I wanted to do with myself, once I’d learned to be a doctor.
So, that trip established my trajectory toward medical school. Which college was still undecided but that fell into place shortly thereafter.
I had dreams of going to Case like my brother. An impressive school like that seemed like where I needed to be to get into medical school. However, the amount of scholarship money I was offered made that dream seem impossible.
Instead I ended up at the University of Akron.
The first time I toured Akron, I hated it. Small piece of advice, if you’re trying to convince someone to move to Akron, a 23 degree Monday in February is not the best day to do it.
I applied anyways, at the urging of my parents, etc. I was accepted. I was invited for an honors interview, then another interview. I was offered a scholarship that no other school could possibly match… and off to Akron I went.
Going to Akron was a crucial part of getting into medical school, although I didn’t know it at the time. The small community of the Honors college put me in close contact with other pre-med students and the Dean, Dr. Mugler, went out of his way to help me on numerous occasions. He made sure that any class I needed was open to me, wrote multiple recommendation letters on my behalf, and always networked me with other students that he thought could help me.
In my sophomore year, I first heard about PhiDE, a pre-med fraternity starting on campus. I only noticed the flyer because I was walking alone through the Union because my cell phone had died, so my friend had not come to meet me. I only paid attention to the flyer because it had the name of one of the deans on it and I thought it would be interesting to hear her speak. (Turns out, not the dean… just someone with the same name!)
It was a long-shot… getting chosen for that scholarship, happening to notice a flyer that advertised a pre-med fraternity, happening to go to an event where two of the Seniors talked about their experiences with a program known as Med Start at the University of Toledo College of Medicine.
The program sounded incredible, and with two weeks left before applications closed, I began to apply. One of the two who presented about the program helped me with my personal statement and practiced with me for interviews. Without his help, there is no way I would be where I am today…
Nine months later, we were engaged. Less than a year after that, we were married.
Not only did Nick help me get into medical school, but he helped me survive the first two years. He could always give me a heads up for what was important, help me focus, and remind me that it is okay to take time off for sanity.
My whole life has been on a path it seems, to put me in the right place at the right time. People I’ve met, opportunities I’ve gained, experiences I’ve had, all coming together to get me to that testing center on June 7th. With everything working out just as it needed to so far, it’s hard to be as scared of a little test.
It also really puts things in perspective – even getting to take this test is a huge victory. It represents years of success and hard work that have gotten me to this point. Not only my own, but every one around me. Every prayer, every cramming session, every proofreading, every hug. My parents, my husband, my family, my friends, my church… I owe the people in my life a huge debt of gratitude. We made it to this point.
And now that it is almost 2 weeks since I took that exam, and had these revelations, I can genuinely say I’m happy it’s over and despite the clarity of perspective it gave me, I’m looking forward to receiving my score, which will hopefully inform me that I will never have to take it again.