Monday, June 19, 2017

The Road Not Taken

A critical point in my education has arrived.  I now need to decide, as in in the next thirty-six hours (give or take thirty minutes or so), what branch of medicine I wish to pursue.  It's not as though I will be contractually obligated to stick with that branch of medicine forever or to face dire consequences. Hell, I could, halfway through a residency, change courses and go with a totally new specialty. For that matter, I don't even have to continue to practice medicine if I decide at some point that I don't like it. When I complete my residency if things go as I'm currently planning, I will be twenty-eight.  Some people, as hard as it seems to imagine, haven't even decided what to do with their lives by then. It's also not as though a formal declaration of specialization is required, but, rather, I need to apply for a sub-internship; my choice of sub-internship specialization may limit to some degree the areas in which I will be considered a desirable candidate for residency.It's not totally closing out any given option, but it is a major step in the decision-making process.

Medical school itself has been a jarring experience. Most of us, though not all of us, in medical school went through elementary school, high school, and undergraduate education being the brightest students in most of our classes. Suddenly we're thrown into a setting in which we're no longer cognitively superior to our peers, or, if I'm going to be perfectly honest in stating it, to the competition. It is a competition. It always has been and always will be. The powers that be can implement any snowflake-facilitating grading system they can possibly dream up, but we're still going to compete for stature and superiority. Only one of us can claim to be the smartest in the group now. That person is, unfortunately, not I.

Now I'm in a position of serious self-assessment. What can I bring to the table that is stronger than what the competition has to offer?  The ability to take in information, commit it to memory, and synthesize it, which has made me a virtual genius in every other educational setting in which I've found myself, is no longer, in and of itself,  enough. Close to  half of the cohort is in my league in regard to the ability to process and retain information quickly. It could be worse, of course; I could be in the half of the cohort who cannot process and quickly commit to memory vast amounts of content.  Then I would be working even longer and harder than I'm currently working.

In addition to discovering some domain within the practice of medicine at which I'm actually proficient, I also have to find an area I like. Sometimes what we would enjoy doing and what we're good at are two circles in a Venn Diagram with no intersection. Being proficient is most important, as the patient recovers from acne or doesn't, has an arm that mends as it is supposed to or doesn't, or even lives or dies in  some cases based largely upon how well a doctor does his or her job.  How personally fulfilled I am at the end of the day is a secondary consideration at the very most. Still, a doctor probably isn't going to be all that proficient in the long haul if he or she is unhappy in doing his or her job.

Much can happen yet to derail my plans or at least to cause them to change course.  Still, it is time to devise a plan and to set the course in motion to achieve it.  Two proverbial roads have diverged in a proverbial yellow wood. I can't stand here staring as far as I can for much longer. It's time to go down one path or the other . . .  and Robert Frost has been no help at all.

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