It was my second day of residency orientation and I was sitting in a lecture hall full of eager interns of all specialties. Several times during presentations throughout the day, speakers would reference pop culture from the 80s (my favorite era), and the lecture hall would fall silent. “Does anyone know who said, 'Check yourself before you wreck yourself?'" one presenter asked… crickets. C’mon guys… Ice Cube! “Wow you guys are young,” he interjected into the silent crowd. Later in the day, one of the presenters actually said to the group, “The youngest person in here is 23 years old.” My jaw dropped. Twenty-three!? How is that even mathematically possible?
For the next few minutes I just sat there thinking “Wow… how did I fall so far behind in life?” This isn’t the first time I had felt this type of insecurity. After all, many of my friends from Pre-Med are actually attendings now when I’m just starting residency in my thirties! For every time I have wished I had just done medical school "the right way, right after college," there are at least 10 other times that I feel so relieved that I took my time and went at my pace. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that life isn’t just a task list to run through as fast as possible. In fact, there can be drawbacks to running through the “schedule” so quickly. After 4 years of medical school, and a few weeks of residency, I can confidently say that there are 4 major advantages to going through medical school ‘later’ in life:
YOU HAVE YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
I can tell you firsthand that my study schedule in undergrad was worlds behind my disciplined schedule in medical school. Granted, it is impossible for it NOT to be more disciplined, considering the increased scholastic pressure. On the other hand, there would be times in medical school when there would be some party or event that everyone was attending, and I had tons of work to catch up on. Sure there would be a little tinge of FOMO (fear of missing out), but I would typically choose studying over the beach, parties or my social life in general if I had to. Now this isn’t to say that balance isn’t important. I am merely saying that when pushed came to shove, and I really HAD to get to work, I would. Having been a little older, and supporting myself through medical school, I fully understood the weight of my actions and what they would ultimately cost me (literally and figuratively). I can tell you that this only came with time in my life. And guess what? It paid off!
YOU HAVE JOB EXPERIENCE
Most of us who didn’t go straight from undergrad to medical school have at least a little bit of real world job experience. Of course, many times, these jobs have nothing to do with the medical field, but the experience is invaluable nonetheless. This may not seem important to you while you are in the library 15 hours a day, but experiences such as networking, teamwork and organization that happen at a professional level come in handy in so many ways in medical school. You would be surprised how much help I received from my peers in medical school because of these skills. Once I was in clinicals, these experiences really proved essential when it came to developing my CV, making contacts in my field of interest and gaining learning opportunities. I was able to network with really “important” people because I felt comfortable doing so. I was well-prepared for all of this because of my real world job experience that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
YOU HAVE LIFE EXPERIENCE
I remember being a teenager wanting to visit my cousin in Michigan for the weekend and the weather was going to be really bad. My mom kept “nagging me” to get on the road before it got dark outside and worse, but I kept saying “I’ll be finnnnneeee mom.” Sure enough, hours later, I would be crying on the road, terrified because it was dark and stormy and it took me forever to get there. Guess what? I never underestimate the weather anymore. These types of things happen throughout life. Someone can tell you their experiences on how to deal with people, stressful situations, anxiety or your responsibilities, but until you've gone through it, it never really sticks. Because I had several years to myself on my own before going back to medical school, I really had time to gather more life experience that I was able to apply to a vast number of situations inside and outside of the classroom.
YOU HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF
Of all of these advantages, this one is by far the most influential of them all. Throughout the different stages in life, you begin to cultivate a persona that you carry with you. When you're younger, you aren’t quite sure of this persona and how it is perceived. But as you get older, you develop this confidence in who you are that is completely invaluable in medial school, especially in years three and four. There will be times in clinical years when you are put down in unimaginable ways. And I will admit, there were times when I felt like a nobody who knew nothing. I did, however, have a resilience to some of the criticism and hardship that some of my younger counterparts hadn’t developed yet. When you are put down when you don’t know who you are yet, it can shake you. If you know who you are and have confidence, however, it is much easier to laugh at some of the crazy expectations placed on you.
Ultimately, nothing will make medical school easy, but having your priorities straight, some experience and confidence in yourself can make a world of difference. So if you are a few years (or more) out of undergrad considering medical school, or if you are currently in the middle of school while most of your friends are buying houses and having kids and you are thinking, “What have I done?”, be reassured: you are NOT “off track”. You have the gift of knowledge that only comes with time and experience, and you will be rewarded if you stick with it!