Negative Reinforcement

1 Oct

It takes a special kind of person to get through medical school.

People I’ve spoken to often assume (…perhaps because of their interactions with me) that Type A personalities dominate medical schools. Which makes sense — a grouping of goal oriented aggressors do make up a majority of our 600 person class. Personally, I believe those that are not cut throat, A-type personalities … those are the truly brilliant ones. People like me — these strong, A-personality types — we’re the ones who got to medical school by sheer willpower. By skating by, charm, really good recommendations and a just-good-enough GPA.

What I — and the other students in our class — have come to terms with in the past eight weeks is that it takes much, much more than charm and ‘skating by’ to succeed at this level of work. It takes dedication, every single day, to wake up and start the same routine: review, flashcards, lecture, lab, study, study, study. It takes a certain amount of sacrifice: friendships, family, drinking (synonymous with fun, in some cases), sleep … it takes sacrifices of health, often of happiness. This, we know, will pay off eventually. Or, at least, we hope.

But, most overlooked, perhaps, is the harshness of the reality of medical school. Constantly being told the hours of work I’ve put in is not enough. Berated for sleeping more than six hours, rather than cramming more facts into my tired brain. Being on the receiving end of constant negative reinforcement. Being hammered by information, so overwhelmingly that the methods of teaching and learning do not even have time to be questioned … and why not? Because there are a thousand students who would be glad to step into your shoes at any moment, who would give their left arms to be able to heal with the other.

We deal with these abuses for the same reason. We have given up a lot to be here, we are willing to sacrifice it even more. Sadistic, isn’t it? We are willing to get fat, to not have a life, and to be constantly berated because we have been convinced it will pay off. Convinced that this is the only option — and they’ve trapped us here, haven’t they? Trapped me here. One semester in, nearly 100,000$ in debt … and no way to pay it off, except to make it to the other side. We’re convinced that this is the method of becoming the best. Of being a doctor. Of being a part of this elite and exclusive ruling class of the free nation. Of having job security and respect.

We are willing to be abused to be the best.

There’s something inherently wrong with that, isn’t there? And maybe some people realize this. Or some people can’t handle it. Or some people don’t want to handle it. Or some people can’t stand the smell of formaldehyde… you’re not going to get far, around here, without a strong stomach and sense of detachment.

But maybe I’ve got it backwards. Maybe, in fact, it takes a special type of person to leave medical school.

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