The little things

February 21, 2011 —

The road to becoming a physician is a long one indeed. In my personal case, since I’m leaning towards the field of cardiology, I have three years of internal medicine residency followed by three years of cardiology fellowship after finishing my four years of medical school (which, of course, I could only begin after four years of college). Consider, then, that while some of my classmates were going directly into the workforce upon graduating from high school, I still had 14 years of training left. In other words, all of my education up to that point (from pre-kindergarten to high school graduation) did not even account for half of the total education I would receive before realizing my final goal. And then I had the bright idea to add a master’s on top…

Suffice to say, I’ve been on this road for quite some time, and I’ve still got a ways to go. However, this isn’t to say that there aren’t definite transitions worth celebrating along the way. For example, whenever I feel that medical school has brought me to that quaint little precipice at the limits of my sanity, I remind myself that just this time last year, I would’ve given anything to be in this spot. Likewise, for all the madness and woe that an internal med resident should endure, I would trade places with them in a heartbeat. In pondering this, I am reminded of the Cao Dai faith practiced in southern Vietnam – it is said, by its practitioners, that there are 72 levels between heaven and hell, and that earth is number 68. A peasant on 66 would not trade places with a king on 67, and so forth. Perhaps the same could be said of the not-quite-as-many-but-sorta-close number of levels in medical training. Until we reach the end, we are somewhere in between heaven and hell, but we can at least rejoice each time we get a little closer to the former.

I guess the take home message is that we ought to celebrate the little things more often. Any occasion can be made special, if you twist and equivocate shamelessly enough. For example, when my hometown’s team lost the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, I decided to celebrate what I saw as a clear symbol of charity and bridge-building on the part of the Steelers. After all, if they didn’t have the Packers’ happiness and success at heart, they wouldn’t have so selflessly delivered 21 points worth of generous turnovers. Being part of such a cooperative display of kindness, I felt, merited a little splurging at Jordan Creek that weekend. Then, when Arcade Fire was given the Grammy for Album of the Year, I decided to use their success as an occasion to go out for dinner (just as soon as I scoured the internet to try and find out who the heck “Arcade Fire” was). In fact, despite being frequently branded as “The Grinch of Valentine’s Day,” I even decided to do a little something special this February 14. That evening, when I prepared my usual microwave dinner for one, I decided to go all out and use the good silverware. Not bad for a night that I usually think of as being little more than “Cheap chocolate day eve.”

So for all you high schoolers, undergrads, med students and residents out there, just remember:  the road is long, but there are rest stops along the way. Don’t let the little things go unnoticed. Party more (within reason), count your blessings, and find a reason to use the good china every now and then. Afterwards, of course, you had better get back to studying.


Nathan McConkey discovered DMU all the way from his hometown near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After graduating college as a teenager with a degree in molecular biology, he wanted to begin a master of public health degree online while working as an EMT and teaching labs at his undergraduate college. Eventually, the plan was to attend a local medical school in Pennsylvania. Little did he know, however, that his exposure to the MPH program would eventually lure him all the way out to the Midwest to pursue his medical training at Des Moines University instead. When he’s not working on his two degrees or over ten different jobs and volunteer positions on campus, he enjoys discovering new reasons why the city of Des Moines isn’t nearly as boring as his East-Coast perspective had led him to believe.