I scurried across the campus to the bricks that housed the Department of Psychiatry. Sneaking in the back door, I hurried to the elevator. Fifth floor, the sign read. Sweat coursed down my back as nerves ran up my spine. A conversation with this doctor was going to determine if I would be allocated an additional four to six weeks to study for my step one board examination. This is the board examination one must pass to transition from a second year to third year medical student and begin clinical rotations in the hospital. That is what they tell you. They do not tell you this is the score that almost entirely dictates what type of physician you can become. A lower score on this exam and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), Orthopedic, Cardiothoracic, and Plastic surgery are subspecialties you can surely kiss goodbye because these residency programs will likely never see your application.
In the corner of the waiting room, I hid behind one of the partitions set up to enhance patient confidentiality. The psychiatrist greeted me prior to ushering me into his office. A dimly lit room, a couch and two chairs welcomed me. This felt more like an audition than an appointment. My heart was not beating, it was throbbing.
Globally, approximately 1/3 of medical students are being treated for anxiety or have been diagnosed with anxiety by a clinical practitioner. For me, I had never experienced anything like this before; sleepless nights, a lack of appetite resulting in substantial weight loss, an inability to focus, tears streaming down my cheek for no apparent reason and an unending catastrophic feeling surrounding my studies and upcoming exam. At the time I felt alone. Many years later I have come to know there are many who share this story.
At the conclusion of our visit I thanked him for his time and left down the elevator and out into the cold Midwestern evening. Staring into the distance the Ohio Stadium stood proud, a gladiator’s coliseum, while a shell of myself stood frozen in the night. He would either agree these symptoms were inhibiting my studying or he would not. The fate of my future was in his hands—this man I had only met only 60 minutes prior.
The next morning my cell phone rang.
“…We are granting you four additional weeks for your studies…”
In his report, the psychiatrist had noted the anxiety levels I was experiencing dramatically hampered my ability to adequately study.
A sigh of relief set in.
The throbbing within my chest had now decreased to a dull roar that would allow me to finally sleep for the first time in weeks. I made my way to the couch and as I began falling asleep, my mind started retracing my steps to medical school.
Abruptly, I woke up to my cell phone ringing. This time it was the pharmacy—my new prescription for anti-anxiety medications was now available for pick-up.
The journey to medicine is unique to each individual who embarks on it. One commonality is that it indirectly teaches success through repeated adverse conditions and failures—it teaches perseverance. Many of the leading educators and clinicians I have met in this sphere maintain an intrinsic motivation that far outweighs their innate level of knowledge. This intrinsic motivation increases their aspirations, knowledge and purpose; aspiring to serve as a physician, understanding that knowledge precedes healing, and a purpose dedicated to caring for others.
In essence, these men and women are the ordinary ones. They are you and me. They were once pre-medical students with a dream who became medical students embarking on a journey, then resident physicians gaining the skills and knowledge to become attending physicians. Ultimately, these attending physicians continuing to turn dreams into reality for anxious pre-medical students.
This is the journey.