Just like the monarch butterfly, keep Going.
While the six years you spend in medical school undoubtedly hold some of the best experiences you’ll have in your life, hardships and obstacles lie along the journey to that degree, too. What they may or may not have told you is that this path you chose is not only an academic rollercoaster, but an emotional and mental one as well – both draining and beautifully fulfilling at the same time. I recently read about a particular type of butterfly – the monarch butterfly – and couldn’t help likening its unbelievable journey to ours, as medical students. Each fall, monarch butterflies begin their long journey from Maine to a remote hilltop in Mexico. These tiny, fragile creatures flutter, dip and soar for thousands of miles, allowing their instinct and desire to steer them. They pass over lakes, prairies, mountain ranges, cities – spanning a continent (yes, that’s right – butterflies spanning a continent!) just to get to their destination. Some winds blow them off course, while others speed them along. Despite it all, braving through storm and shine, they keep flying until one day, they arrive.
The early mornings and late nights spent studying, the cycles crammed, the muscles mastered, the long ward rounds, the breakdowns and burnouts are by no means unfamiliar to any medical student. The sheer workload and intensity that goes into dedicating oneself to a particular body of knowledge and practice has never been easy. Aside from this, the expectations and pressure from family and friends who are excitedly counting down to the day you – their future doctor, a shining beacon of society – graduate, may be enough to drive you up a wall (or into a corner) on some days. On other days, we face different demons – because life does not come to a standstill through the six years; personal hardships are bound to come our way.
In spite of all this, I am a firm believer that what doesn’t kill you only serves to make you stronger. The challenges, disappointments and failures we encounter today are nurturing perseverance and patience for the future. Nothing worth having comes easy; and on the days that are harder than others – the days when you question whether you are indeed capable and befitting of this calling – it is worthwhile to remember your why. Remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place. Remind yourself of the split second you decided to pursue this path when your loved one was sick. Remind yourself how you, as a wondering and innocent child at a doctor’s visit, wanted to be just like the one who saw you. Remind yourself of the first time you read about a successful surgery and the ambition it stirred in you. Remind yourself of the gratitude you felt when a doctor was able to discharge your little sister, sickness-free; or of the first time you paid a visit to the sick and resolved to make a change, to ease their suffering. We, no doubt, all have different reasons why we decided to dedicate a large part of our lives to bettering and saving other people’s lives – and reminding ourselves of these reasons could just prove to be the sunshine on a rainy day.
Like the monarch butterflies, we will be blown off course sometimes by unexpectedly strong winds, but through it all, we’ll focus on the goal, not the difficulties. Each day, we’ll take our bearing and set off, allowing our why to steer us and see us through to the end. Remember that, in retrospect, the years of struggle, hard work and dedication will always strike us as the most beautiful – and that nobody, nothing, not even the butterflies, regret going the extra mile, because it is always worth it in the end.
Penned by Punam Raval
Fourth year medical student – Kenyatta University