I began medical school knowing one thing: I wasn’t a genius.
For four years of high school, I worked my butt off in honors and AP classes and fleshing out my resume with extracurricular activities and leadership positions to try and “make up” for what was lacking. In college, I toiled in my undergraduate courses, taking electives and finding opportunities to continue to help myself “look good on paper.” For the eight years leading up to medicine, I was told that I lacked everything, academically. I was a good student, but –, I worked hard, but–, I was eager to learn, but— and I was always afraid of what followed that “but” because I knew that it was another blow to my confidence, another dig I’d take to heart, another piece of advice that would stress me out even further.
In my four years at medical school and in this period of transition, I’ve learned that average does not mean bad. Average doesn’t mean less. Average doesn’t mean worthless.
#1 Average means adventure.
At first, I was petrified of joining extracurriculars, trying out school activities or joining school events because I was so afraid of failing medicine. I felt I had to spend all my time studying. I was told I’d have a harder time than others, and that medicine is the hardest thing anyone could ever do. Thus, I placed limits on myself before school had even begun! However, I found that without the added pressure of having to chase academic honors to pad my resume I could allow myself to explore and have fun. I joined the debate team, wrote for our school paper, was able to swim for our school’s intramural swim team and even joined in on backpacking adventures on weekends off. Looking back, even if I had thrown myself at my books all day and all night, the academic honors I would’ve earned would never be equivalent to the treasure trove of memories from my four years. I’d choose adventure.
#2 Average means remembering you’re human.
It’s hard sometimes to remember that we are people, too. There’s a saying that gets thrown around when it comes to healthcare professionals – we give up our lives to save yours and I have always thought that it was such a sad sentiment. As an average medical student, I worked twice as hard as some of my classmates and cried twice as much, too! But being average freed me from the expectations of perfection, and allowed me the luxury of taking a break once in a while. I realized the limits of my brain and body and allowed myself the time I needed to protect myself from the burnout of brilliance.
#3 Average means owning the struggle and rising above it.
I fail all the time. And when I mean all the time, I mean all the time. I’ve failed quizzes, I’ve failed exams. I’ve failed classes and I’ve failed Step 1. I don’t think there’s any stone I’ve left unturned in the failure department. For a long time, I carried that burden silently. I didn’t want to let anyone see me struggling because I always equated struggling with being less than – less than my classmates, less than my colleagues, less than everyone. If anything, the struggle has made me approachable and relatable. And it also has allowed me the honor and privilege of serving as proof that success is possible even when it’s not a smoothly paved road. The good days are fantastic and the hard days are tough, but the average person is the person that may fall seven times, but we get up eight.
#4 Average means becoming stronger and working harder
After the struggle, you’d think it would get easier at some point? For me, it hasn’t. I don’t think it’s ever been harder, and sometimes I think it’s worse now, because the dream life that I imagine for myself is just within grasp and yet it seems to take me twice as long to reach it. The hardest part about being average is that often, we’re on our own timelines. Because the paths we walk are different from those of our more talented and brilliant peers, I like to think that our metaphorical shoes are built different and that we evolve. Once you have faced your demons – the fear of failure, the self-doubt, the self-deprecation and the anxiety surrounding your future (or what you believe is a lack thereof), there is no way to go but onward and upward. Our struggle makes us strong.
#5 Average means having to want it more.
There is no stronger foundation than rock bottom. Out of the hundreds of thousands of medical students around the world, it is logical to assume that those of us who are average make up the vast majority, albeit the silent majority. There are no articles written about us. There are no awards given to us. We do not wear the laurels of glory, the medallions of success, there are no gilded words on our diplomas that shout of our achievements. In truth, that is our strength. There are no awards or accolades that draw us to medicine; there is no temptation of glory that urges us forward, no external validation that drives us – we bring ourselves to medicine. Just ourselves. Even on the days that we feel medicine may not want us, we know we want it more.
While I never aimed for less than perfect and dreamed of graduating with academic honors, I realized that all the awards and accolades in the world meant nothing next to the hours I devoted to my patients. My worth wasn’t measured in statistics, though our Match rates, Step scores and futures may be, no. I refuse to accept that I will only ever be someone who’s smart, but —.
We study to save lives. No ifs, ands, or buts.