Friend or Foe?

Manning and Brady. Ronaldo and Messi. Magic and Bird. Superstar rivals vying for supremacy. Competition between them is fierce and unyielding, and if we’re honest with ourselves as medical students, it is this same competitive spirit that has enabled us to be where we are today. I mean let’s remove the niceties here and be transparent about this: we all to some degree desire to be the best. That type of attitude is almost a prerequisite to carrying M.D. at the end of your name. Whether it’s class rank, MCAT, or Step 1, we’re constantly being evaluated for how we perform compared to our colleagues; in fact, this can be the deciding factor in our career. Poor scores on Step 1 or the MCAT can eliminate the possibility of certain residencies or even the possibility of medical school at all.

With so much at stake, it’s easy to see how any acts of kindness between classmates would be squashed by competitors striving to be ahead of the bell curve. Yet, in just the few months we’ve been here, I’ve seen classmates helping classmates, sharing resources and effort. How can so many Type A people be readily willing to benefit those they compete against? Some would shout it’s naiveté or apathy, but I assure you that none of us are here by embodying either of those traits. No, the answer must be deeper, and it must come from the competitors themselves.

Within the class of 2018, a rivalry festers. From grade 1 to M-1, two men have been battling to show everyone who the best “Andrew” really is.

Join me as we examine this lifelong (and often humorous) struggle between two classmates (and now, student government members) — Andrew Buhr and Andrew Lee — and see how these friends’ rivalry may parallel the way we all view our peers.

How and when did this rivalry start?
Buhr: It was a race out of the birth canal. Which he beat me by four months.
Lee: So I’m the obvious winner there. But seriously, kindergarten year, 1996.
Buhr: They had this thing, it was called the golden tassel. It was the coveted — I don’t know why, but —
Lee: It was the first place prize. It was a trophy…and I got it.
Buhr: Yeah I remember looking down and seeing that golden tassel, because you’re quite smaller than me.
Lee: Well it’s still in my car. So I can look at it every single morning on my way to med school with that student that I grew up with and know I came in first when we were both competing.
Buhr: That one time.
Lee: It happened seven times after that.

How did your rivalry develop, and what does it encompass?
Lee: It was really thrown upon us. In the latter years of elementary school, there was only the two of us. So you were either first or you were last.
Buhr: We both had parents who really pushed us too. But we were still great friends through it all. It wasn’t like I was going over to “my rivals” house or something.
Lee: But we played each other in sports a lot.
Buhr: And music. [Lee] started off in the advanced level, and I started in beginning. We’d do a recital, and it would literally be like, “Hi, my name is Andrew Lee, and I will be playing Solfeggio in C Major.” And then I would get up there, “Hi, my name is Andrew Buhr, and I will be playing Chocolate Cake.” And of course he would win any type of competition we were in for that too.

Andrew Lee, tell me your greatest victory over Buhr.
Lee: I can’t remember the year, but it was 5th or 6th grade, and [Buhr’s] mom was teaching us, and we had that GPA race that year and I won by 0.04. And I got the award for highest GPA.
Buhr: And then they announced it at graduation, which made it an even bigger deal than it already was. And now everyone knew Lee had won.
Lee: Yeah, it wasn’t like it was just Buhr and I that knew. Everyone in the school knew.
Buhr: 0.04. That’s like one spelling word. One.
Lee: Or an EMT quiz.

Andrew Buhr, tell me your greatest victory over Lee.
Lee: Ha, height.
Buhr: Height, looks, just all around likability — no, just kidding. It was probably in college —
Lee: Yeah, you definitely beat me in the “do everything you can and still maintain a GPA” department.
Buhr: Ha, maybe. But it was definitely in 7th grade when we got specific subject grades and I finally did better than you. That was a confident booster, just because it had always felt like I never could
do better than him before that.

Can you think of a time that your rivalry ever did any real harm to you guys’ friendship?
Lee: There were some moments when I really began to wonder what this guy was thinking. For instance, the Go-Gurt incident.
Buhr: That doesn’t even have to do with grades, you just had to bring it up!
Lee: I don’t know what I did to upset you.
Buhr: It was justified.
Lee: I had to wash Go-Gurt out of my hair at school! I was sitting there eating during quiet time, and Buhr takes the Go-Gurt out of my lunch and whacks me on the head. Go-Gurt — all over my head.
Buhr: But as far as any real tension goes, I was bigger than him. So any kind of football or physical altercation, I usually just ended up hurting him more often than not.
Lee: It’s true…
Buhr: But we might be painting the wrong picture here, it was never anything serious. We were pretty tight.

How do you balance your rivalry and being such close friends?
Buhr: It’s never gotten in the way of our friendship. I mean, I want him to do well.
Lee: It’s like we’re each other’s biggest fan. But, at the same time, I’m not going to let this guy show me up.
Buhr: But it pushes each of us to do better.
Lee: Yeah, and we’ll be happy for each other if the other does well.
Buhr: We learn alike, and can learn from each other from our mistakes and our failures. As medical students, we live in a world where competition matters. For those looking into medical school or unfamiliar with the process, speak briefly on where that competition in scoring comes from.
Lee: Ultimately [scores] matter in what career choice you’re going to be able to make. MCAT scores play a big role in admission into medical school. There’s no getting around that. Then the first two years of medical school, you’re preparing for the Step 1 boards. And that ultimately could decide what residency you can get into, on top of interviews and stuff like that. And they’re going to look at everything else too, your GPA, your class rank, etc. And you ‘re competing with not just your immediate classmates, but those around the nation as well.

So with that said, what do you think keeps competitive classmates from being hostile towards one another?
Buhr: If I just see my peers in light of academics, then they’re in the way, and they’re going to keep me from getting my goal. But if I see them as more than just that — if I see them as a healthcare provider who has to overcome the same obstacles, then I’m their biggest fan. If I see them as a friend and colleague that I will work alongside one day, and keep the bigger picture in mind, then I won’t get so narrow minded on the grades–
Lee: The bottom line is friends first, everything else second. Knowing them as human beings, rather than simply competition or bitter rivalries or however you want to put it. I feel like a lot of our class is really good at that, at helping each other. It’s not rare to see people posting helpful links, or going the extra mile to make PowerPoint presentations so that it will help the rest of us.
Buhr: On our first day here, the class was talking about things that they thought were important, and they were throwing out stuff like humility, and servant leadership, and no one was really talking about having academic superiority. I just think our class has done a great job at keeping the big picture in view, the one that had been painted for us since our interview day. Things like: What are you going to bring to this community? Who are you as a person? How can you be compassionate? Can yo u work in the healthcare system as a team? Because that’s what healthcare is now. It was made very clear that this school was to be different, that yeah, we’re here because we’ve worked hard, sure. But there’s a bigger picture here than grades…we have a high calling as physicians, and it’s an awesome responsibility.

Buhr and Lee’s close friendship and strong competitive spirit mirrors the attitude that I have found in our class. Going into medical school, I did not anticipate seeing a fraction of the kindness I’ve seen in just my few months here. The competition, of course, is there, and understandably so. But maybe we’re all starting to realize for the first time in our lives that we’re more than just a number from a test, GPA, or rank. Here’s to praying it stays that way. And one last question that was rather funny…

Who’s going to score higher on Step 1?



Jeremiah White

Jeremiah White

Formerly from the Baltimore area, I graduated from Bob Jones University with a degree in pre-med. Having interacted through MedEx with the faculty and students, I knew the doctor USCSOMG wanted to graduate was the doctor I wanted to become. If I’m not hitting the books, you can probably find me spending time with my better half or on the basketball court. It is an honor and a privilege to be a member of the class of 2018, and I’m excited to share my passion for global health, children’s health, and health education with my peers. “To whom much is given, much more shall be required.”

Kristin Lacey