Medical school is one of those conversational references used in the comparison of tough situations or in teasing others:
“I can’t believe you are an Arsenal fan, a Nigerian and a medical student.”
“Don’t you go complaining about that tough client, at least you’re not in medical school!”
“Listen, I have a social life; it’s not like I’m in medical school or something.”
“9 to 5’s or Medicine? The choice is yours.”
While I would like to confidently roll my eyes while sitting in the comfort of my career choice, I admittedly have some concerns. Within the last few months of clinical rotations just before my Pathology and Pharmacology Medical Board examination, I have felt like my dream of becoming a doctor—one I have had since I was seven years old—was finally going from black and white to technicolour. And while I am excited to start the next chapter of my education, I am also grappling with some real, tangible concerns about the road ahead. These concerns are not enough to deter me, but do cause my inner critic to surface in times of doubt. Here are what keep me up sometimes:
It has been said time and time again that studying Medicine is a ballgame different from anything else. No matter what experience students may come in with—as a First-class degree holder perhaps—nothing can fully prepare them for medical school. In our world, intelligence only takes one so far—whether or not progress is made depends on how resilient, fast and perseverant one is at ploughing through high volumes of material. Recently, I feel that resilience slip away from me.
The other day, I bumped into a friend who is a medical doctor. We talked about juggling photography and medical practice. I thought it would be ideal to go further with both of them. Simultaneously. He had different thoughts however: due to the increasing number of hours needed for residency, research projects, and academic work, he found it helpful to further the one instead of both. Would I also have to choose between these two loves of mine? Give one up for the other?
When I started my preliminary year in medical school, I stayed in the lecturers’ quarters (University of Ibadan) and not in the student hostel. There was nothing much to it—I just craved a quieter environment, and it helped that the quarters were a few minutes from the lecture halls. Moving to the University College Hospital has been tough. At first, I tried to leave things as they were and remain in the University campus, but I found myself being exposed to a lot of dangers such as road traffic accidents and robberies. Now, I have to handle loud dormitory mates and a lack of privacy (I miss my quiet place.). Learning how to manage these different elements sounds exciting, but it also brought me a lot of apprehension.
I am aware of the fact that it is not necessary to choose a specialty early on. Before knowing the physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, and pathology of every organ system to a scarily high degree of detail, it is tricky to know what you like learning about and would really enjoy doing. Despite this awareness, I frequently get questions from my inner self about what medical field I would be specialising in. “Do you think you want to be in the operating room for the rest of your life?” “Are you good enough for this specialty?” I can’t help but think about which types of patients I would best enjoy and thrive at interacting with. It concerns me that I won’t feel proficient enough to pursue any specialty.
I take comfort in recognizing that many other medical students share some of these concerns. I have read about the stories of countless people who succeeded in medical school and overcame their uncertainties about stepping into the profession, and they too have brought me some comfort. Nonetheless, as someone who enjoys a certain degree of predictability and setting expectations for myself, I still have a lot of fear of the unknown. I’m sure though that time (and resources gathered in medical school) will settle some of these worries, and help me find direction, confidence and excitement in the type of medicine I will eventually practice—but the wait is intimidating.