When do I become a doctor?

Last week, many of my classmates were posting “last day of school” photos as we completed our final classes of medical school, often captioning them something along the lines of “look you guys, I’m a doctor now!” This sent me into a reflective reverie, questioning when do I really become a doctor? Is it the last class of medical school or, more officially, on graduation day? Is it the first day of intern year, when I plunge into a patient’s room and utter the phrase “I’m Dr. Bailes, and I’m going to be taking care of you today”? Or is it some moment later when I take charge in a crisis, such as running my first code or doing a crash intubation? 

I don’t have an answer to this central question. I am trying to soak in the warm salutations of my friends and family as I wait for it to feel real.

After four years of medical school it is incredible that we have made it to this point. I was recently asked by a family member if medical school went by quickly or slowly, and after briefly mulling it over I answered, “both.” It feels like it went by in a flash, but I also can’t believe the person I am now compared to when we started four years ago. As I float down a lazy river of nostalgia, I catch glimpses of moments when I had near out of body experiences, and became aware of my own progress in the moment. On my last EMS shift of M2 year, I found myself thinking through the patient’s differential and what the treatment and work up should be, while on my first shift as an M1 I was clumsily putting a pediatric oxygen mask on a 54-year-old man (don’t tell Phil.) More so, while doing ride along EMT shifts during my M4 Emergency Med away rotations, when the paramedics turned to me wanting to know if they did a good job and if they should’ve done anything different – I remember feeling incredibly strange about it. And now, I see myself easily making small talk while I deftly suture an elderly patient’s scalp laceration in the ED, wondering who is this woman I’ve become? 

I am sure I’m not the first person to wonder about the moment of earning the title of physician. As I think about it, I am not convinced we are like caterpillars, slowly turning to butterflies and one day bursting free of our cocoons in a flash of color. It seems instead that we are statues constantly carved, and we may choose the marks our chisel makes. We have committed to being life-long learners, and in this way our work is never done. I feel united with my colleagues in the truth that we are all becoming something together. I hope that we never take for granted that we have the chance to become kinder, wiser, and more skilled every day. I am honored to have become someone these past four years, and I can’t wait to see what is to become of us yet.  

About the Author: Carrie Bailes
I’m a lifelong South Carolina resident originally from Clover, SC. In my undergraduate years I spent my days going to the beach and frequently tripping over cobblestones while attending the College of Charleston. I graduated in 2015 with a degree in Biology and Neurosciences and spent a year playing with rats in a neuroscience addiction lab at MUSC before continuing my education. I’m thrilled to continue my tour of the state in Greenville and am enjoying all the great spots to read outside here. I believe UofSCSOMG has an untouchable sense of community and dedication to patient care, and I’m so grateful and excited to be a part of the class of 2020!