I left Seattle on a Thursday, one day after my last as a young, excel-toting management consultant. Leaving the office with 2 large sacks with the assortment of picture frames and high heels I had left (but actually rarely worn) at the office, there was a moment of elation followed by a moment of panic.
I was no longer accountable to my outlook calendar or the gantt chart in my powerpoint slides. With my computer abandoned and my out of the office (forever) automated message activated, there would be no more fire drills, no more steering committee presentations and no more text boxes to format. The freedom was exhilarating but was accompanied by a nagging fear that I had done something incredibly stupid. I was voluntarily departing a job I loved, leaving colleagues who had become my friends and champions. But it was too late to take it all back. I had no choice but to soldier on.
Going back to school implies a step backwards, even while stepping forward. On the surface, it means things like adjusting my spending habits to reflect the change in my income from moderately positive to aggressively negative. Passing by a café on the trek home, I realized with a sinking stomach that I would have to think twice the next time I don’t ask the price of my drinks (and then later realize I spent more on my cappuccino than I did on lunch). I will need to curb my ever enthusiastic consumption of everything in the J Crew catalog, and possibly ban myself from ever stepping foot in Soho. I will need to devote weekends to books and reading, rather than an endless parade of Brothers and Sisters on Netflix.
Beyond habits of living this re-entry into notebooks and tab-dividered binders also entails a shift in accountability. Professional development goals and promotion schedules are replaced with formal cycles of assessment and question answering. There are no more euphemistic discussions of my strengths and development opportunities. These are replaced simply, by scales of 0 to 10, from 1 to 100, rated as passage or failure, know or not know.
There is no more “going off line” at the end of the work day, as lectures and labs bleed into hours of channeling lines of understanding between concepts in a language I barely speak.
In the first year we are accountable first for pieces of knowledge, then later on for execution of tasks both technically complex and heavy with humanity, requiring fluency with ethics and empathy, and also a confidence and ease that still eludes all of us.
It is hard to grasp the gaping chasm between the people we are today and the people we are expected to become. This is not like getting trained in microsoft excel with its straightforward shortcut reference sheets and colorcoded formula cells. We learn the body, with its layers of vasculature and innervations by literally peeling back layer by layer, here exposing the transversus abdominus, then the lung, then the no longer beating heart buried deep within the pericardium.
On this awkward transitional path from Ms. to Dr. (currently a name reserved for and will forever be associated with my infinitely more distinguished father), I will simply be that girl who has no idea what the hell she is doing.
Suddenly, my “pre-med” days are decidedly over. I’m finally, officially here, where the furniture barely fits into the space that has been allocated to be my New York City home, and where it is the end of summer just on the cusp of being fall. Outside the 6 train loudly announces its passage downtown and the ambulances on Madison avenue blare on approach to the hospital that is also my school.
This just might be the hardest thing I will ever do, and its going to take the rest of my life.
In low moments that I am sure will come, I hope I’ll remember the optimism of this beginning, and carry with me all my dreams and aspirations – to be a good doctor, a compassionate champion for all that is just and beautiful, and to be a light to those who have none.