Always look for the rainbow, the path to resilience

April 07, 2020

By: Vivian Concepcion

The process of becoming a physician is a long and exhausting process in which there are a lot of ups and downs. From my point of view it doesn’t require you to be the smartest or most brilliant person in the room; but to be able to be a physician you need for sheer emotional intelligence. To be able to bounce back from stressful circumstances, to experience stress and be adaptable and positive. And to be resilient.

Keywords: Resilience, burn out, physician.

I am a Cuban-Mexican US International Medical Graduate, I am the first one in my family that got an education. I knew since I was a little kid that I wanted to be a doctor. Me 18 years old and my single dad didn’t know what to do to make my dreams come true because getting an education in the United States is really expensive especially medical school. The only thing I thought I could do was go to my home country and get an education there and then come back and study for the boards. And here I am 7 years later preparing for the USMLE step 1.

When I got into medical school I didn’t know what I was getting into. Everyone says medical school is difficult, you need to read a lot, you have to have a hard stomach, but I was not scared because I actually enjoyed it.  What nobody says and most people do not know is the amount of things we need to sacrifice in order to become physicians. The time with our families, extra curricular activities, parties, vacations, etc., I couldn’t finish with the list. But medical school is beautiful because with time it helps you learn how to manage. How to be able to do everything; to be a daughter, a sister, a friend, do the things you love, and to be a doctor, it’s hard , it’s not perfect, but if you chose to look at the good things and if you are organized, it gets easier.

I remember my first day of medical school, I was happy and so motivated since day one but I cried the night before because it was my first time away from my family. Going to medical school many times means being away from our loved ones. That night I cried because I missed them but I knew I was in the right place, so I chose to smile and do my best. All my life I wanted this. And now that I got it, I was committed to doing my best to be able to help many people in the future.

I was only 18, I didn’t know what I was getting into but I could hear my dad’s words in my ear telling me “attitude changes everything.” To be honest the first year, I wasn’t only learning medicine. This career taught me so many things. Like even if I study everyday, and if I did my best, I did average on my exams and that taught me to be humble. Being apart from my family, made me responsible, but these things over the years made me look for alternatives and made me create a new family. It helped me to accept support from others, taught me teamwork, and with this, life in medical school gets simple! I got better grades, I was happier, and felt better. We are humans, we need each other, we need rest, we need to have a good attitude and to learn how to respond to every different situation, we need resilience.

This is my path to resilience.

Medical school the first two years are basic sciences where schedules are filled with long hours, in which we had to stay late in school and finally when we got home, had to study for lectures for the next day. I can’t say how many things that I love, I left for this.  The only thing I saw in the moment were books, bags under my eyes, and how much I missed my family. Why would I stay? Because this is my purpose. I wanted to be a doctor, I was thinking of how beautiful the clinical years would be with the human connection. Being able to heal was my dream. But living like that was not healthy so I decided to change it. I learned how to manage my time well so that I slept every single night. I remember how me and my friends made notes in class, and we chose 2-3 subjects each one had to edit the notes, and we shared them with each other. This way we had perfect guides to study for tests and we weren’t killing ourselves to survive in med school. I got back to playing soccer and I managed to have a personal life.

My clinical years were a dream to me. Some hours of lectures, in which we were able to shadow a physician, seeing how smart they were, how they cared for the people, the compassion, the procedures they did, their abilities. All this inspired me, I wanted to make all the procedures they let me. One day, the doctor I was shadowing in OBGYN asked if I wanted to deliver a baby since I was already there for a week. Even though I watched him delivering babies many times, I didn’t feel ready, I knew my limitations and waited until the end of the rotation to do it. Knowing our limitations and not being perfect is OK. 

My internship, in Mexico, interns stay every 2 days on call, there are 3 teams A, B, C. Suppose I am on team A. I would be on call Monday from 6 am to 4 pm and Tuesday. Most days that we were on call we didn’t sleep and if we were lucky we slept 2 hours. More than 30 hours in the hospital! And the next day we had to be on the hospital 6 am. This messed with my brain. I wasn’t sure why I was there. I just remembered my first year of medical school, I remembered my purpose. I also thought this is temporary and I focused on the good things. Every time I felt tired, I took 5 minutes off and went to the Pediatrics’ hall to see the babies. My dream is to be a pediatrician and that made my heart so full! I can’t explain. I had rotations in things I didn’t like, like we all do. Had to deliver babies, suture patients, take labs, do casts, draw blood, had to do everything of every specialty even though some things I didn’t like. I did it happily because attitude changes everything not just for ourselves but also for the patient.

The last year of medical school in Mexico is a community service year. They send us to a rural community and mine was about 27,000 people 15 minutes away from the city but some were 3-4 hours away. It didn’t matter if they were close or far because we had to stay there from Monday to Friday, living in the clinic. We had Saturday and Sunday off only, the other days in the morning we had in-patient consults with a nurse that came from 7-4 and in the afternoon and night each doctor was alone in the community they served attending emergencies only.  We provided healthcare to marginalized communities. This is the reason most people go into medical school, to be able to do this. But why do a lot of people forget it? This answer is, burnout. This year especially I think was an emotional intelligence test. I loved this year! But it was hard at first, I chose to see the good and at the end of the year I made a new family in the rural village. The nurse that worked with me was an angel and the people were very grateful and kind. I felt my heart warm up all the time. But many medical students don’t, I remembered one day, our teacher told us that most women get depressed during this year and most men drink a lot. And he told us to be careful with that, and to ask for help if we needed. I think this process is very exhausting and that if we don’t organize our time and balance our personal and professional life then we can forget our purpose.  

As you know by now I already finished medical school in Mexico. So I am completely dedicated to studying to become a US licensed physician. 

I walk to the library early every day with a heavy backpack that has my first aid, laptop, iPad, food, etc. to study for 9-10 hours then I go back home eat and study for 2-3 hours again. That’s the life of most medical students while preparing for step 1. As I’m saying this you might think my life is boring but no! I actually enjoy studying, I play some music, I make study calendars, I even made a page on Instagram to help medical students that are just starting on this journey. Helping is what I love and if I can’t heal people here in the US, I have to find a way to keep making my heart feel full. So that’s the way I’m doing it now.

Here in the states I am not a medical student, I am not a doctor. After all the hard work, all the years studying, all the obstacles I’ve passed, I had to start all over. And I’m happy to do it, because this is what I want, this is the career I love, this is my purpose. I have a lot of dreams and I’m willing to work hard to go back to the hospital, to go back to helping people, because that is what makes my heart feel full. 

That’s what motivates me, that’s my purpose.

When people see me, they ask me what do I carry in my backpack? They say that as if it’s like I carry all the stress on my shoulders. Maybe they are right but I chose not to think about it like that.

I know my purpose and I think that’s important in medical school because it’s easy to get depressed. It’s so easy to feel burnout. We know this path is hard, but our attitude toward it and how we think about is what makes a difference.

I want to fulfill my dreams, for the person who helped me all these years carry that backpack, who believed in me and supported me through all this years, my dad. And for the people I am going to help when I finish this marathon.

Doctors are trained not just academically. Sure they know everything on first aid and all those medical books used in school. But the most important growth in medical school is mentally and in your heart. Medical school changes your mind and heart forever. It makes you resilient.