I guess this is growing up

As Voltaire said, “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position,” and the transition to medical school or grad school (or both!) often comes with much uncertainty. For many of us, we move away from home, leaving loved ones and everything that we’ve known. If you’re like me, you went to college close to home so the transition then wasn’t too bad, so this is really the first time on your own and this is the first time you’ve felt such a massive shift in your life.

At the same time that we move away and start our new adventure, our undergrad friends get real jobs and start to figure out their lives in our absence. While we struggled to get into school before they started their job search, now they are the ones trying to figure things out  while we are set for the next 4+ years (8+ years for MD/PhD students – I like to call it “putting off getting a real job.”) As we go in different directions with our lives, it can be hard to handle.

But this is not our first rodeo. The same thing happened when we began college as we left our high school friends behind. We made new awesome friends who perhaps shared a major, career interest, extracurricular interest (for me, most of my friends were made through the marching band), or love of alcohol and partying (because, you know, college) and we wondered how we could have ever lived without such great friends in high school. No matter how much we intended on staying in touch with high school friends by skyping and visiting each other on the weekends, we start to drift apart as we become immersed in our new life.

It is a sad fact of life that as we undergo transitions we must give up much of the life that we know and love. Nonetheless, it is something we must all endure as we grow through this life, and in the end it can be for the best. Luckily, some of these friendships can last, but they are often put on the back burner for the time being while many others are removed from the hypothetical stove altogether. When you do see these friends again, it is a wonderful feeling. But while you’re gone you do change in a way that these friends do not and it can make the distance hard especially as you begin to find a new niche in your medical school or graduate school cohort.

Beginning a new program of study, you again wonder how you ever lived your life without these people. Medical students are pretty weird, but we are all a similar kind of weird. It may seem normal to us, but to the general population, obsessively studying, putting in the insanely long hours we do, and being oddly excited about cutting into human bodies comes off as really strange. We’re a sort of masochistic bunch, as we push ourselves and devote so much of our lives to helping others. Luckily, we find solace with our own kind as medical school becomes our sort of refuge.

Grad students are pretty weird as well. Striving to enhance the knowledge of our world, putting in long hours, and barely getting paid. It can be a rather isolating educational experience as you work on your own project that not many others may even understand. It’s cool that you’re the only person in the world who knows that much about what you study, but it is also challenging. Luckily, your peers in grad school are going through the same thing and so within your grad student cohort, you find your people.

Then there’s MD/PhD students. We’re sort of stuck between the two. If anyone really embodied the weirdness of either education path, it would be us. Within our medical school and graduate school cohorts, we find the people that really get us at the moment and add a little certainty to our lives.

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

Posted in Graduate School

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