Thursday, June 6, 2013

More USMLE Step 1 from a Catholic perspective

Isn’t this video terrible? Our coordinator emailed it out as motivation, but it was so de-motivational (and low-budget) that I stopped watching before the half-way mark.

Don’t click on it and give it any views. Views are like currency on YouTube and I don’t want to encourage this kind of nonsense. I don’t even know why I bother linking it. (Research instinct?)

The fact is, no career is worth Step 1. Step 1 is terrible. The day of the exam, my stress manifested in vagal symptoms (even if med school puts me through awful test, at least it made me able to describe my test anxiety prettily) and I had no appetite. Eating was completely undesirable. I packed relatively tasty and fun food, but I felt like eating none of it. I was demoralized, especially after the first block; I was completely exhausted, especially by the end.

But it would have been incalculably worse if not for the true Faith.

Earlier that week, I’d emailed several groups of women religious and asked them to pray for me. I’d started a novena to St. Joseph of Cupertino: I purposefully chose an almost disproportionately short one, knowing my pharisaical temptation and tendency to be superstitious about my prayers determining the future.

Earlier in the morning, before I went to the test center, I went to daily Mass (as I had been during the end-game week) at the parish where I grew up. I asked the priest to bless me afterwards, and I knelt down to receive his (very Irish) blessing. He later told me he’d been praying for me.

And all through that day, I repeatedly entrusted myself to Jesus. “Jesus, whatever You want,” “Jesus, I trust in You,” “Jesus, You’re in charge,” “Jesus, do whatever You want by whatever score I get,” “Jesus, I’ll do my best, but the rest is all in your hands.”

And because of these things, at the end of the day and even during the test, I was at peace even though I was extremely stressed and felt terrible. “That’s pretty special ‘peace’,” you might object, “that admits of such awful emotions.” I answer that it really is a special peace precisely because it coexists with those emotions: it withstands them.

I contrast my Step 1 experience with my MCAT experience. My faith was much weaker three years ago, and the test was something I was doing for Jesus. I was demoralized by the questions and disappointed by my score. I couldn’t believe I’d done so badly, I felt terrible. My peace was gone, washed away by emotions. That was a peace that wasn’t founded on trust in Our Lord. It’s fundamentally weak. In contrast, the peace I am growing in now can coexist with terrible emotions because its source is outside me.

[picture of houses on sand/rock parable]

Back to the de-motivational video: no career is worth all those awful experiences. The price is too high; no mortal satisfaction (e.g.  prestige, money, fulfilling feelings in medical practice) is worth it. It’s like an endothermic reaction: the activation energy is too high and the products are too cheap. Why become a doctor when you can be a PA, NP, nurse, occupational/physical therapist, EMT, MA, psychologist, midwife, volunteer, or nurse’s aid and get the same fulfilling feelings? Why become a doctor when you can be a lawyer, engineer, investor, innovator, or manager and get the same money and prestige?

In "Doctors' Diaries," PBS followed a group of medical students to midlife and Dr. Jay Bonnar, who became a psychiatrist and was asked at the end of everything: 
Q: You could have become a therapist without becoming an M.D. It might have been a lot less expensive and anxiety-provoking. If you had the chance to do it over, would you go to med school again? 
Jay: You asked the question I said I wished I wouldn't be asked. I don't know whether I would do it again, but I can't do it again, so it's really kind of irrelevant. It is as it is. One can't live one's life over. I am here now, and it's a better place than where I have been, and I'm glad I don't have to do it again.
That quote always made me sad because I worried that he was right, and being a doctor wasn't worth med school. Now I realize, he's probably right. Being a doctor isn't worth all that suffering.

What is worth all that suffering is holiness, or doing the will of God. Medicine is my vocation—the fulfillment of my soul and the way God made me to love and save myself and others. And that is worth anything, as all the saints attest.

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