Richard Zhang

Richard Zhang

Medical school is filled with rewards. It’s no secret that medical school is hard, but the many opportunities that it provides for you to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside makes it all worth it. You’ll find that some of the most rewarding moments as a medical student will go hand-in-hand with some of your biggest milestones in medical school, and that’s because medical school and a career in medicine is something that is simply inherently satisfying. Here is a list of my top eight most rewarding moments I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in medical school:

  • Receiving your offer for entry

Is there any better sensation than when your hard work pays off? (Especially when the lead-up to opening that decision letter is so tense that you’ve spent the past five days slowly pulling out all of your hairs and chewing off all of your nails!) I’m sure most of you remember the wave of pure ecstasy that as you read the words that congratulated you for getting into med school. The good news is that I can definitely testify that this is only the first in a long string of similarly satisfying moments that you will encounter throughout the rest of med school.

  • Learning the Krebs cycle

If you know, you know. The most notorious concept that every M1 dreads and every M2 despises, the Krebs cycle is simply one of the worst experiences any medical student has to endure. That’s what makes finally being able to nut out the Krebs cycle just in time for your biochemistry exam so immensely satisfying. 

  • The 10 seconds after every exam

The first 10 seconds after every exam are some of the highest highs I’ve ever experienced in med school. Not only is it a brief period of rest and relief, but it was also my personal way of checking how far into medical school I was. Most people count the years, some count semesters or rotations – but I counted the exams. Unfortunately, this high only lasts 10 seconds, because inevitably one of your friends comes up to you complaining about how poorly they structured their response to question 10b and from the ensuing conversation, you pick up just how wrong your answer was.

  • Each history you conduct on a real patient 

Each and every history I complete on my patients is an immensely satisfying experience. As an introvert, I typically hate making small talk. It’s especially a problem in the clinical setting, since the nurses and doctors I try to make conversation with are constantly busy, only sometimes bothering to finish their sentence before they get signaled off to attend to another patient. But when I settle down with a patient and take a history, it’s always an opportunity to listen and to learn. I always learn at least one valuable takeaway from every history, whether it’s an unusual symptom that could manifest in their condition, or whether it’s a unique way in which a particular issue might affect a patient’s day-to-day life. Being able to constantly learn and pick up additional knowledge directly from the patients rather than a textbook or a lecturer is always a rewarding experience. Perhaps even more satisfying though, is the opportunity to simply listen to what a patient has to say. Maybe it’s my introversion coming out again, but I like to listen much more than I speak in most conversations, and it’s actually something my patients have mostly appreciated in the past. Most patients, unlike medical students and clinical staff, aren’t accustomed to being in hospital and often feel uneasy about the whole experience. With the doctors and nurses being so incredibly busy, very rarely do the patients have the opportunity to simply let someone know what their concerns are. So most patients are often really quite appreciative when you take a detailed history and let them speak their minds – and that is an incredibly satisfying experience.

  • Making your first diagnosis

Taking the things you learned from a book and applying it to clinical practice is not an easy task. Unfortunately, it’s the one task you’ll be doing the rest of your life, so it’s definitely a skill you need to become very good at. That’s what makes making your first correct diagnosis such a rewarding experience. For me, my first ever clinical diagnosis of a patient was a case of CREST syndrome. The impressed nod I received from my attending when I summarised the case and presented my diagnosis to him later really made all of that intensive studying all worth it.

  • Completing your first (probably minor) procedure

Doing things right is so immensely satisfying. Doing things right the very first time you’re attempting it is even more satisfying. Doing things that make you a more proficient medical student right the first time you’re attempting it is even MORE satisfying. So when I successfully drew blood for the first time, and sutured a minor skin wound for the first time, and finally managed to elicit a decent biceps tendon reflex for the first time, I was over the moon because I was proving to myself that bit by bit, I was becoming more and more like an actual doctor. So take note of your milestones, because every step you take to becoming closer to a successful intern is a rewarding moment.

  • Being complimented by your attending

Attendings are busy people. They don’t have time to give compliments to lowly medical students. Or at least that’s how I justify the lack of praise I get. But when you do finally do something or say something that impresses your attending, the joy and pride you feel could honestly probably rival the joy and pride parents feel when their child is born (I’m sure parents would disagree with me on this, but giving birth certainly seems easier than getting my attending’s attention). So when you finally do manage to get a compliment, or even an impressed smile, out of your attending, cherish that moment.

  • Being thanked by a patient

Like the rest of you, I went into this field because I wanted to be a good person. I wanted to be able to make people’s lives better. Nothing reinforces that goal in my mind more than when I get thanked by a patient. It’s a recurring reminder of why I decided to study medicine and it’s a constant motivator whenever I start to feel burnt out and question whether medicine is really worth it. From the little “thank you” I received when I picked up the pen a patient dropped to the big “thank you” I received from the patient I gave a diagnosis of cancer to, every little iota of gratitude I have received from patients has been a deeply rewarding experience that has helped inspire me to soldier on through the difficult journey that is medical school.

Medical school is not easy. But it certainly is worth it. It’s constantly filled with rewarding moments and touching experiences. You’ve just heard a list of some of the highs I enjoyed the most through my time in medical school so far. I’m sure all of you have had similarly rewarding moments in medical school, so try to reflect on them regularly and remember them whenever things seem to be particularly hard. 

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