During every major life transition, medical school included, one of the primary pieces of advice I have always been offered is some variation of, “Prioritize your wellness! Continue to engage in the things that you love.” I was, admittedly, skeptical about this prospect coming into medical school. How do you balance “Prioritize your wellness!” with “Buckle up—medical school is a lot”? Three months in, I’ve realized that these two things are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive. Medical school is a lot, but it would be a lot more difficult if I didn’t take time to do the thing that I love, which is running.
Running is, for me, a time to just be. When I’m out on the trail, I can’t be doing anything other than just experiencing the flash of a still-dangling autumn leaf out of the corner of my eye, or feeling the welcome sharpness of the winter air hit my lungs with each stride. It’s a time to unwind and remove myself from the stresses of everything back at the start of the trail—and even though the finish line is also the starting line (have to get home to shower!), I never fail to return home with a different perspective on something.
I’ve realized that medical school is, in so many ways, like running. (You knew this metaphor was coming, didn’t you?)
- It takes a lot of time, but it’s not time wasted—it’s time during which you are learning and exploring. My long training runs are one of my favorite parts of my week because with each step, I can literally feel my forward progress as I trudge along towards my goal. Medical school is the same way. Sometimes, it feels like we’ve been handed a straw and are asked to drink the entirety of Lake Michigan through that straw—but then, somehow, Friday arrives and it’s time to prepare for the quiz, and we realize that maybe we did learn a thing or two that week.
- Hills become views. At one point during a recent race, there was a huge hill up ahead, and I felt pretty disheartened as I approached and began to climb up it. But then, at the top, I picked up my head and noticed the incredible view that climbing that hill had afforded me, and it made it all worth it. Similarly, during those long nights in Taubman Library cramming for an exam, I feel like I’ll never learn it all—but then, when I speak with a patient and use a piece of knowledge I learned in class, it’s such an amazing moment.
- It’s about the people. A group of my friends (see photo!) came to meet me at the end of the Detroit Marathon, and knowing that they were there motivated me through to the finish. That’s also why medicine is so rewarding for me. The days can feel incredibly long, but when you have those amazing one-on-one interactions with patients—well, it makes it worth it.
That extended metaphor was cliché #1 of this piece, and here’s cliché #2: don’t stop doing what you love, neither in medical school nor in any of your other pursuits. Time spent doing that thing is not time spent away from doing what you “should” be doing; rather, it is time spent investing in yourself in ways that will make you a better physician (and person!) one day.