Friday, October 12, 2007

The First Day as an Aggravated MedStudent

It was a hot August morning, the first day of classes at the country's best medical school. There were about 200 of us alphabetically arranged in our seats in a semicircular lecture hall, fidgety, nervous, looking around for a recognizable face somewhere in the crowd. There were a number of Longhorns -- poor bastards -- that obviously knew each other well from their pre-med classes, but I was sort of lost. I knew that one of my college classmates was there, and finally spotted him. Thank goodness, I thought, at least I will have someone here that I can talk to. But soon I spied another familiar face. Frank! A high school classmate! What a relief.....oh shit! He is probably the smartest guy I know! He put poor Fr. Schwing through his paces in calculus, so there's no question that medical school will be a breeze for him. What the hell am I doing here?

As I sat there waiting for the Dean of Students to arrive, that question raced around my head like a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit. What the hell am I doing here? Everyone in this room looks so smart, so capable, so sure of themselves. Not only will I fail out, I'll probably do so before Halloween. And then, just like a kid being told to take off his Halloween mask, they will know really who I am. They will all know --- that I am a fake, that I didn't really deserve to make the cut for medical school, that somehow I slipped through the cracks and there was a colossal screwup in the admissions office.

Just as I was worked up enough to just get up and leave, in walked the dean of student affairs --- probably the most easy going, supportive person around, Dr. Bryan Williams. In a gravelly Texas drawl straight out of east Texas, he welcomed us and then did something I found to be quite amazing -- he congratulated us, and told us to be excited that each and every one of us would get our M.D. degree in four years. "Sit back and relax! You are going to be just fine," he said, and really meant it.

Dr. Williams then proceeded to run down a list of emotions that each and every one of us in the room were feeling --- that everyone else in this room looked so smart, so capable, so sure of themselves. That everyone else would succeed, and that we ourselves were fakes, waiting to be unmasked by the first difficult anatomy test. That somehow we slipped through the cracks and there was a colossal screwup in the admissions office. And then he said "Hell, that's all bullshit. We didn't accept you just to let you fail. So relax, learn something, and quit worrying. You are all going to graduate from medical school." And so we laughed, more with relief than anything else, realizing that all of us had been fidgeting, all of us felt like we had somehow made it past the admissions process purely by accident, and all of us had the same fear of being exposed as a "fake."

What about Frank? True to form, he aced everything that came his way, and now is a successful neurosurgeon. But then again, everyone that started with me that August day, save one, graduated with me four years later. I have always felt that the little speech that Dr. Williams gave is a reason for that kind of success.