Magical Med Students

“You all are so _________, after all, you got into medical school.”

You can fill in the blank with any combination of: hard-working, dedicated, smart, compassionate, well rounded.

I’ve heard that sentence countless times from my lecturers since starting medical school and I’ve decided I don’t like it. These statements make me feel uncomfortable because they put me on a pedestal I’m quite sure I don’t deserve.

These statements suggest to me that the accomplishment of medical school is all due to my own efforts and skills and hard work. It’s not. I mean, sure, I was the one who studied and wrote the exams and did the interview. But that is just a sliver of what got me here.

In no particular order of importance:

  1. I got involved with the Red Cross in high school (in part) because of a girl I liked
  2. Ended up co-founding a global issues club in high school
  3. Club probably got me the scholarship for university
  4. Scholarship allowed me to travel and volunteer to my hearts content during my undergrad
  5. All of the above, and all of the proceeding took place while living in a safe home where everything was provided.
  6. Got good grades in high school and undergrad because I happened to have the type of intelligence and learning style that the educational system caters to.
  7. Had a personable disposition that I’m sure opened many doors for me
  8. A strong community to support me
  9. Most importantly, my parents bringing us to Canada and settling in BC. Allowing me to get my Canadian citizenship and apply to UBC medical school under the higher probability “in province” category. (UBC, like many med schools in Canada, accepts more in province students than out of province students, and does not accept applications from people without at least a permanent resident status in Canada).

This is just a tiny sampling of the many chance events that occurred in my life. Most of what got me into medical school was accidental and/or out of my control. Hell, if I’d had a crush on a different girl I might be an accountant right now—who knows.

The point is I didn’t do this alone. Instead of being reminded to appreciate thank the people who got me here, I’m repeatedly given all of the credit.

Out of curiously, I quickly asked two of my friends who are in nursing programs (one here in Vancouver, and the other in California) the following question:

In your nursing school, do they compliment you all the time? Like “Oh you’re so smart/hardworking/well-rounded, you got into nursing school”?

Nurse 1:

From our professors? Hell no. If we’re really down they may say keep your head up, you’re going to make it, you’re here because you have what it takes to make it blah blah blah, but nothin more than that. Why?

-They tell us that in med school at least weekly. Wanted to compare.

Haha, so that’s how you guys get the God complex.

Nurse 2:

WHAT? Um, absolutely not. Pretty sure I’ve never heard anything like that. Why?

-I hear it at least weekly in med school; wanted to see if it was common.

That’s ridiculous, no wonder you people have such a God complex.

So we have two separate conversations, two student nurses in completely different systems, with remarkably similar responses. It’s far from scientific, but it is very interesting.

I’m not saying med students don’t work hard, I’m just saying that they don’t necessarily work harder than any number of people in any number of fields. I’m saying that anyone who gets anywhere does so with incredible support. Med students are not some “different”, “special”, or magical breed of students.

It is nice that the lecturers compliment us and make us feel good. But it is easy to let that get to your head. And when doctors have big egos, things get dangerous.

5 thoughts on “Magical Med Students

  1. Using your argument, it can be said that all career pursuits require some sort of hard-work, dedication, intelligence, compassion and well rounded-ness. However, why then is it common to associate medical students with these characteristics? I believe there is a reason. Medicine is changed over the years with development of the field, but the field started humbly. Doctors made home visits, dealt with the sick in close proximity(with the risk of being highly susceptible to disease), even tasted urine to determine if a patient has diabetes. Since this time medicine has changed to being well institutionalized and probably more distant from patients, but one thing must remains. I believe what should remain is the acknowledgement of a patient as a suffering human being and the support of them in the worst of times. This can be difficult thing, but a part of doing this well requires some combination of characteristics stated above. To truly serve a suffering patient, one may be required to distance one from oneself and understand the patient and what matters to them the most in a dire time. A more specific characteristic needed of physicians is selflessness which I felt was well exhibited in your article…good job. Anyways, you do have a good argument which points out the confusion or the lost of understanding the humble aspect of the work. Maybe the humble and selfless aspect must be emphasized by professors in comparison to the hard-work, dedication, intelligence, compassion and well rounded-ness.

  2. It annoys me when my fellow medical students actively downplay their accomplishments and shy away from the limelight. Yes, everybody in our generation knows chance is an element of success; we don’t need to keep pushing this concept to the point of “why bother trying”. The reason our instructors instructors praise us is so that we’re reminded to be responsible with our new-found power. Let’s put that energy into genuinely encouraging our peers, building society’s trust of health professionals, and being innovative. If a student’s accomplishments came with so much ease and chance, well society would love to see what they can do when they actually try. Please don’t hide that pedestal you’ve chosen to acquire; own it and use it for good. –Year 2 Medical Student from BC

    • Please be more humble – you aren’t better than anyone that isn’t in med school. It’s awesome when people downplay their accomplishments and shy away from the limelight instead of constantly making their facebook status about how amazing they are and wearing their med’s sweatshirts every day…
      You can do plenty of good without the “pedestal” you speak of.

      • Agreed–professional students should be humble and grateful for their good fortune. But, these are virtues that every adult already knows–so it’s possible to go overboard by actively denouncing oneself. Patients want to hear that their doctor is confident, and high school students want to hear that society values hard work. We don’t need to erode these beliefs. And that “pedestal” is real–society views it as authority. It’s a disservice to the public to squander that position of authority. There will always be people who need to hear explicit humility from others in order to feel better about themselves; this is why self-deprecating humor on TV is so popular these days. We need leaders who are confident role-models, not who are pleasers and apologists.

  3. How is it that “compliments” are literally taken for their meaning. Its intresting to read different views, perhaps thats a good reason to re-evluate why do we think the way we do.
    I mean its clear from above replies that whats being said & understood will at least objectively have 2 versions to it, to say the least, ie: person commenting & the individual at the receiving end….
    So, does that mean that one is always assuming what the other says?
    When I read the initial statement “you are…got into med school” my assumption was, the professors are reminding you of the fact that you got into med school with all the opportunites you cashed in that came your way; so do not allow yourself to forget that reality hence forth keeping the passion alive that has allowed you to earn a seat in this lecture hall!

    Now thats what I would have interpreted it as….
    Mind you, I am in no way suggesting one perception of understanding is better than the other….and if I am expecting one must think, say or understand others through my lense then I am in for a rude awakening……
    we are individuals, the way we understand, listen, assimilate, make meaning, gather perceptions should perhaps present as an opportunity to celebrate our uniqueness, our personal accomplisments, journeys that have got us on a “pedestal” we stand…and yes! EVERYONE of us is standing on a pedestal & nothing wrong with that; however, the difference comes in is when we try to prove our place/thinking in time on that pedestal is better than the others!

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