Eight days of classes, fourteen lectures, three dense self-study modules on the adrenergic and cholinergic systems and drugs, and who even knows how many hours of actual hardcore studying boiled down to a three hour, 106 question exam this morning. Early next week the computer wizards will magically spit out a simple number, my z-score, assessing my mastery of the basics of pharmacology as compared to that of my 140 classmates. This number that may or may not reflect my pre-exam confidence in my knowledge of the subject, but as I wait, continually refreshing my computer screen for an update on our grades, one thing is for sure: although I quickly forgot the feeling, about two questions into the exam this morning, I almost instantaneously remembered the agonizing pain of getting my butt kicked by a seemingly harmless multiple choice exam, something I’ve become all too familiar with over the last two semesters.
It’s funny because when you think about it, that’s all an exam really is: a bunch of words on a computer screen with some buttons to press. In a different context, like online shopping or finding new crockpot recipes on Pinterest, the act of reading, thinking, and clicking is even fun! Despite actually enjoying following our disciplined schedule, listening to lectures, and learning, for some reason, each exam is incredibly anxiety provoking for me. This year just seems even more high stakes than first year with Step 1 on the horizon, and that big dance is after our 15 theme exams.
As a former collegiate athlete, one-time cross-country cyclist, and a recently minted Ironman, I have absolutely no issue “faking it until I make it” when it comes to endurance sports. I’ve mustered up the heart and tenacity to push on when biking through Death Valley in 120-degree heat while severely dehydrated and finish a 140.6 mile race in less than ideal circumstances, always coming out better and stronger on the other side of the finish line. I just wish that I could transfer my determination and optimism in my athletic abilities to that of and in my academic ones, but the realization that you can never completely and absolutely master the amount of information thrown at you during the first two years of medical school has kept me humbled, perhaps even sometimes discouraged that this is a conquerable feat.
I take comfort in many, but primarily four things: 1) that no one ever said that med school was going to be easy (in fact, I am 110% positive I was warned that it was going to be really hard 🙂 ), 2) that scores of medical students who have gone on to become full-fledged doctors have had similar doubts and thoughts in their fact-filled heads and made it out alive to tell the tale, 3) that I am trying my personal best with the ultimate goal of serving my future patients to the best of my own gifts and abilities (while trying not to compare myself to others), which is really all I can ask of myself, and 4) that God is always on my side and has got my tired-from-being-hunched-over-studying-and-from-carrying-too-many-textbooks back.