For most of my life, I have been among the best of my peers in everything academically related. This changed for me in medical school, as it does for most people. The thing a lot of first year med students have trouble dealing with is the fact that nearly every one of their peers was also at the top of their college class. Unless you have a rare intelligence (or are masochistically hard-working), you won’t be at the top of your med school class.
Don’t get my wrong, I did just fine during my first year of medical school. I’m going to be an excellent physician. My grades are good, and there are plenty of students who didn’t do as well as me. My point is that there are also plenty of students who did much better than me. The ego I had going into medical school was tested and found to be much too big for its britches. So at the end of my M1 year, I was feeling a little defeated, since, like everyone, I’d been hoping to be the best of the best. In a fateful coincidence, I also didn’t have anything to do over the summer. I’ve always been good at research, and a professor at school had invited me to work in his lab over the summer. Hungry for some good hard science (which I’ve always loved) and the chance to do something I’m actually good at, I decided to do a little bench research. I don’t anticipate that it will look particularly good on a resume, I just thought I’d enjoy it.
The summer was wonderful. I was a scientist now. No longer a dejected first-year medical student, I was seeking to know something no one on earth has ever known before. My project was to isolate and characterize a protein involved in RNA processing. I started out very excited, working hard at transfecting bacteria with cloned DNA so they would produce massive amounts of the protein I was interested in.
Then, for awhile, I got discouraged–having come from a physics background, I wasn’t quite aware of the grueling hard work and failures that come with biomedical research. For awhile it looked like I might not even isolate my protein, let alone characterize it. But finally, two weeks ago, in the eleventh hour of my summer, I got protein! I grinned from ear to ear when I saw the big black splotches of protein in my gel. I even had time to run a few experiments and find out a little about how my protein behaves and what its function might be.
Now I was really something. Not only had I done some real science over the summer, but I’d finished the project I’d proposed to do. All through the summer, people had been asking me about whether I was doing an MD/PhD, and I started to seriously consider it. I was good at this, and I could just imagine myself being the best of the best again, doing cutting-edge research and understanding things no one else understood…
I guess the ego comes back easily. Since my grades are only good, and not excellent, it’s unlikely I’d get accepted even if I wanted to spend three extra years in medical school. So on Friday it was out with the research, and this morning it was in with more medical school. Back to the still slightly-dejected, middle of the bell-curve life of me as a medical student.
(Again, don’t get me wrong. I love medical school, but a little conceited part of me still misses being on top.)
“My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself
with great matters or
things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed myself
and quieted my ambitions.”