We’ve finally done it. We survived high school, we made it through college intact and endured one of the most rigorous academic selection processes in history. But now, all of that’s behind us. Now, we get to enjoy our reward – four years of mind-ripping semesters packed with 26 credits each, a rapid immersion into the most profound and vexing disciplines that are the biomedical sciences, and countless 80-hour work weeks in the company of our predecessors while we strive to make literal life and death decisions on 4 hours of sleep. Truly, one can’t deny that it does take at least a small measure of insanity to choose this path, but for most of us, any other future could never compare. The road will be difficult, and the chance remains that some of us will not see its end, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
That first step will be taken on Tuesday, when my fellow D.O. ’14s and I attend orientation. Less than a week later, our first courses begin, and the “fun” can truly commence. How is it that so many before us have made the transition with their sanity intact? What goal or aspiration to which they might desperately cling was sufficient to drive them to press on, day after day and year after year, to that moment when they might finally call themselves doctors? What anguish and nightmares were suffered as they worked to stay on top of their schedules (which, each year, were stuffed with an almost-sarcastic number of credit hours)? We might only hope to invoke this power ourselves as we too are baptized in the fires of medical education.
Ok, all gloom and brimstone aside, I can’t deny that I (and likely the rest of my classmates) have waited long enough for this moment. Med school may be foreboding, yes, but it’s also an exciting opportunity for which we fought among countless other equally-well-qualified applicants. Of course, having cast a rather wide net myself (how else did I end up here from all the way in Pittsburgh…), I can safely say that there’s no other place where I’d rather take this journey than at DMU. I had the privilege of working on my M.P.H. here this past year, a time during which it quickly became obvious that the environment at this school was of a distinctly different nature than any other. The students here were different – it almost seemed like they were actually happy, as though no one had told them they were in med school yet. They didn’t have that dreary look across their face of a mere mortal attempting to assimilate the collective wisdom of one of mankind’s oldest professions. They didn’t have that empty and defeated appearance of a marathon runner who took the wrong turn to the finish line. They seemed, legitimately and consistently, happy. I’ll never forget that spark, since I found it nowhere else.
Maybe it was the extensive wellness program, maybe it was the approachable faculty and advisors, or maybe it was the unparalleled academic support system, but something special was keeping these students alive and sane. Personally? I think it was the fact that the students at DMU are all in it together. There’s nothing competitive about the classes here – there’s no race to hit that top quartile and outshine your peers. Why bother, after all? Besting everyone else in your class won’t make you a good doctor, but besting the material will. That’s a goal that everyone can achieve, not just the top 10% who scored “honors” on their rotations. Taking on medical school is taxing enough – taking on your own peers at the same time, your greatest allies, would be simply too much work for too little reward. After my interview at DMU, I knew that a school’s recognition of this fact had become an indispensable criterion in my decision. There should never be a reason to cut throats…unless of course we’re performing a cricothyrotomy on a patient in critical respiratory distress for whom basic airway management protocol was unsuccessful. Then, I suppose, cutting throats might be an indicated procedure (just a little D.O. humor for ya).
In short, yes, the road will be long and difficult, but it’s been traveled many times before. Let’s not forsake our most valuable assets, the classmates who go alongside us and our elder-and-wiser predecessors who made the voyage before us. We all share a common goal, so there’s no need to work towards it alone.