Sad and Lonely Together

Here, at the end of didactic education, how do you say goodbye to the room you have spent every day of the last two years in?

The room where you learned to do a cardiac exam, where you had your inevitable final exam meltdowns, where you celebrated good test grades, and where you studied late nights and early mornings. The room that introduced you to the people who are now family.

Here at the halfway point of medical school, I feel too far in to question whether or not I belong here, but far enough away from graduation to really know that this was the best choice. The past couple of years went by quickly. Falling into habit, living the same day on repeat, it is easy to let days, weeks and months pass by without stopping to reflect. Priorities have shifted from the day we arrived for orientation, full of nerves, hope, and anticipation. After studying for the first step of the boards, bilirubin metabolism now seems more relevant than why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of standing in front of our class when we received our white coats. For some reason, these ridiculously talented people voted me as class president. I felt like I had nothing of value to say to them at our white coat ceremony, so I spent a day going around, asking my classmates why they wanted to be a doctor. I received a variety of answers; from educational goals, to a love of science and personal motivations. I don’t know if their answers have changed in the past two years, but mine certainly have. Medical school hasn’t been at all what I expected.

From my naïve speech written only 8 weeks into medical school:

“This isn’t an easy profession. We chose a path of academic rigor. A path that requires huge time and financial commitments. But we have the option to see the next few years as a sacrifice, as something to endure, or we have the choice to see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to not only learn for our knowledge, but to learn for our patients and for something greater than just ourselves. Our knowledge and ability will directly influence the lives of others. I am already learning that medicine is much more than physiology. My medical education is about more than my grades. This journey’s purpose is to stretch me, challenge me, grow me and transform me into a person who is capable of providing care to broken people, as a broken person myself. It is a journey to learn how to leave people healthier than I found them, both physically and spiritually. And that’s true in both medicine and in life. I hope we never take that responsibility lightly, but focus our efforts on the greater calling and remember that this is an opportunity to fulfill that calling.” 

Medical school has been horrible at times. It is a dichotomy of being exceptionally selfish, while simultaneously unable to really do what you want. You selfishly say no to going out with your friends in order to stay in and study, while feeling left out, like you are never able to do anything for yourself. We have become masters of both delayed gratification and taking advantage of each free day we have. It is forced learning with little momentary return and what feels like endless debt. It is spending more time with classmates in a study room than your own family. We are constantly learning everything from each other, from how to choose appropriate antibiotics to correctly palpating a liver. It has been watching each other’s weird ailments with curiosity, and acting as a pseudo-physician to your friend’s random enlarged lymph node right after asking them to check the weird lump on your leg.

With didactic medical school ending, although I am beyond excited to start clinical years, I know I am going to miss the long days of studying with those who have become my random family. In one of my new favorite quotes, my friend reminded me that together, no one makes more fun out of sad and lonely than we do. I don’t think a truer statement has ever been spoken about my experience in medical school.

I learned that life is hard way before medical school, but I have learned to deal with it. To not try to avoid failure, discomfort, hard conversations or challenges, but to take things as they come. To find your people and take life on together. Enduring challenges with people has brought me more laughter and joy than some of my happy times. The past two years have been awful, frustrating, and more difficult than expected, but they have also been way more fun. They have been full of late night takeout before exams, de-stressing spontaneous dance parties, post-exam celebrations and more learning than I ever thought possible.

I am thankful to have spent the last two years with people who make so much fun out of sad and lonely. I had no idea what I was saying two years ago when I put on my first white coat, but these years really did stretch me, challenge me, grow me and push me to accept that I am just a broken person learning to take care of other broken people. I hope I am getting better at leaving people, in any context, better than I found them.

Also, I was having a sentimental moment saying goodbye to my desk when the fire alarm at school went off. I was forced to quickly pack up my stuff and I rushed out. It was as if life was forcing me to keep on moving. To yes, remember the memories but also to remember that there is so much more up ahead. Somehow, it seemed like exactly the right way to say goodbye.



Leanne Brechtel

I am originally from Buffalo, New York where I grew up eating real chicken wings, watching the Buffalo Bills, working as a barista and shoveling four feet of snow off my driveway each morning. I moved down south in 2013 to attend North Greenville University where I obtained a degree in biology with a focus on environmental studies. During my time at NGU I gained both a passion for health care and a love for the community of Greenville. So when I decided to attend medical school, it was no question that USCSOMG was my top choice. I am stoked to be beginning my journey to become a physician as a member of the Class of 2020.

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