Mohammad Jay is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at the University of Ottawa
As you open this letter, you will have completed the first day of your orientation week. You’re sunburnt and tired, but beaming with excitement. You have met so many people and revelled in your shared enthusiasm about medical school. Remember to hold on to this excitement — not just today, but for the rest of your medical journey.
Although much of this journey will be rewarding and filled with exhilaration, there are going to be days when you’ll feel inadequate, exhausted, or frustrated. Remember the excitement of the first day of O-week during these difficult times. Open your admission email and replay the screams of excitement and the hugs from your family and friends. Despite the challenges of medical training, you are privileged to be on this journey. Remember that you are training to save lives. What could be a greater honour than this?
The people you met today will be your family for years. Look out for them; if they’re going through a rough time, get them a coffee and show them you care. Also, try to get to know them well. Every member of this family is different — embrace and explore those differences. If you don’t “click” with a classmate at first, don’t simply walk away… become curious and get to know them on a deeper level. When working with new people, take opportunities to adapt and develop your own character. The journey of medicine is largely about flexibility and adaptability, which aren’t skills you can learn overnight. Use your pre-clerkship years to train those interpersonal muscles, as they are what make a truly outstanding medical trainee.
Today, you also met some of the mentors who will be most influential in helping you get through the more challenging aspects of medical school. Confide in them, look up to them, and never be afraid to reach out to them for academic, emotional, or life-related help. You are extremely privileged to be in a medical school with outstanding professional and peer support; take advantage of this, and be grateful to the beautiful souls dedicating so much energy to your well-being. Soon enough, you will also experience the joy of mentoring first-years.
The years following pre-clerkship will get progressively more demanding. Use your pre-clerkship years to strengthen your relationships with your loved ones. Make sure you develop a strong support system; cherish those who love you for who you are and will always be there for you.
Feedback will be your closest companion. You are now a seedling… how strong a tree you’ll become will depend on how receptive you are to the sun and water of feedback. This companion will often reassure you, but it will also sometimes break you. Remember, you are allowed to get upset and be disappointed in yourself (or even shed a few tears). You must, however, get back up quickly — confident and proud, as you are now a better person. Be extremely grateful to those caring teachers and friends who took time out of their busy schedules to help you grow.
Read up on imposter syndrome: it’s very common among medical students. You will meet some classmates who learn faster, know more, or simply have a wider skill set than you. It’ll make you question whether you belong… whether you are capable of pursuing this career. When these thoughts shake your confidence, it is easy to lose sight of your numerous strengths and blessings — the strengths that led to you being accepted into medical school. You are more than capable of being on this journey. Nurture your strengths and work hard to improve your weaknesses. Be critical of yourself, and make sure your tomorrows are better than your yesterdays.
The journey of medicine is extremely humbling. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. You are no exception. You will make mistakes, and you may sometimes hate yourself for making them. Remember that this journey is about constant learning rather than being perfect. Learn from your mistakes, but never allow them to slow you down. Move past the self-deprecating emotions quickly, appreciate yourself for being so resilient and receptive to learning, and continue your journey towards excellence.
Practice mindfulness and make use of your mindfulness classes. Listen to your emotions carefully. They are often a window to your physical and mental well-being, and sometimes an indicator of how accurately you are following your moral compass. Find time to reflect on your emotions and whether you need to make any changes in your life.
To thrive in the vibrant medical school environment, priority setting will be of extreme importance. There will be numerous social and academic opportunities available to you. Recognize your passions and choose a few activities accordingly. Feel comfortable with saying no to the opportunities you have identified as lower priorities. Also, make sure to protect some “alone time” and reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Self-discovery is a cornerstone of choosing your future career, partner, and much more. It will be easy to find yourself constantly on the go and forgetting to take breaks, but try to remember: medicine is a marathon, not a sprint.
Practice discipline, as it will make you feel satisfied and in charge of your own life. Make plans and try to follow through. It will be hard to skip a weekend sleep-in to wake up at 8:00 am for your planned run and study session. Being disciplined is certainly not easy, but it is a fast elevator towards success. Needless to say, things won’t always go as planned… these instances are perfect opportunities to practice flexibility and creative problem solving!
Finally, constantly push the boundaries. Stay ambitious and creatively explore other possibilities. You have a tremendously inquisitive mind, and that is a great gift. As a great mentor once said: “Always question the way things are done and think if they can be done in better ways.” You and your classmates can be the face of change in medicine, social inequalities, and much more. You just need to believe in yourself and trust your colleagues. There is a long way to go, but you’ll enjoy every single day of it. I’m excited for you 🙂
Your third-year self