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Match Day: When Did I Become A Doctor?

Albert Einstein College of Medicine student Caroline Bader

Caroline Bader

Match Day is just three days away, and I find myself wondering—“When did I become a fourth-year?” I can’t believe it’s already here.

What I’ve sensed in my fellow classmates, and in myself, is a feeling of suspension—as if we are suspended in midair, waiting to learn where we’ll spend the next few years of our lives as residents for an arguably even more intense and formative experience.

It feels as if the beginning of medical school was just yesterday, but then again, such a vast stretch of time has passed since I arrived at Einstein, and so much has happened since.

I feel it most when I’m with students in other class years; I get a jolt of realization about just how far I’ve come.

The feeling comes on as I overhear third-years talk about their first days of a particular clerkship—hearing the uncertainty in their voices, remembering the novelty of it all. I felt that. But by the end of those clerkships, my classmates and I had become mini pediatricians or mini surgeons, not knowing until the end that it was possible.

I watched nostalgically as first-years finish anatomy, teeming with joy and relief and gleefully celebrating their accomplishment. I remember feeling the same way; it’s such a huge turning point in medical school. But then I think, finish anatomy? Boy, they have so much ahead of them!

I also felt it when I talked with second-years studying for the GI (gastroenterology) exam while working at the Einstein Community Health Outreach Free Clinic (known as ECHO). Recently, as a fellow fourth-year and I discussed the differences between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis with them, we could see our differences as well. They were weighed down with the pathophysiology and pathology, full of facts (just as we were in the second year), but we were armed with a few layers of clinical experience—green, to be sure, but still surprisingly solidified.

Reflecting over the past year, I can identify moments indicating that I was truly becoming a doctor.

I watch myself bring a patient into my own exam room without fear, looking through the chart for context and talking to another human being as a real healthcare professional.

I imagine my mind as a blank page, then watch it fill up as I observe and engage with my patient, quickly sorting information and shuffling to specific paths of questioning as I learn more and more, eagerly trying to root out the cause of his or her suffering.

I observe myself resting for longer than is perhaps “allowed” on the patient’s psychosocial situation (because I am going into psychiatry and can’t help feeling that it always plays a role in whatever the patient is presenting with, even if it is not the main cause).

I revisit in my mind the now familiar routine with my attending—presenting a patient’s case, reaching a similar conclusion together, learning a few facts or stylistic points that I didn’t know or had forgotten.

I watch in an almost bewildered amazement as my patient—who an hour earlier was a complete stranger—trusted me, allowed me into his or her life, and now walks out of the clinic, complete with my plan, prescriptions, referrals and lab slips in hand. When did I become a doctor?

It’s an incredible journey, medical school–one that simultaneously challenges and expands your mind, your confidence, your sense of who you are and why you’ve chosen to undertake this journey in the first place. It transforms you into someone you didn’t know you could or would be.

As medical school draws to a close, I find myself ready to embrace the next stage. The process has matured me to the point where I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be for my intern year.

My classmates and I can’t be students any longer. We have started to outgrow the role like a coat that is becoming too small for us. It’s time for a bigger one.

We took our leap when we interviewed and submitted our rank-order residency lists, and we will land on Match Day. For now, everyone is holding his or her breath.

May we all have a smooth landing!

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