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A Humbling Lesson Learned from Medical School

I am the dumbest person in the room. As a matter of fact, in the last 12 months, I am the dumbest person in most rooms I enter. And I love it.

Chances are that if you have recently been admitted to medical school, or are considering applying to medical school, you have been blessed with intellectual prowess. Your grades in high school hovered around a 3.5-4.0, which allowed you to attend one of your first choice undergraduate universities, where you received similar letter grades throughout your undergraduate years. Your standardized test numbers were well above average. You studied harder, stayed up later, and scored higher than your classmates at every level. Phrases like “the 95th percentile” and “outstanding academic achievement” were commonplace.

I know, because I was the same way. Once I entered medical school, I quickly found myself back on top…on top of the bell curve that is (for those of you who aren’t into statistics, this means I became very average). I was surrounded by the best of the best – students who supplemented their powerful natural intellect with even stronger work ethic and dedication. It was a reality check – no longer was last minute studying enough to stay on top of the coursework like I had relied upon in undergrad, especially when my classmates were studying and learning as soon as they got back from class.

||Read Considerations Before Applying to Medical School: Part 1 | Part 2||

Throughout the first two years of medical school, we are in the classroom and lecture hall. The faculty teaches us everything and anything there is about medicine: Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology, Pathology, the list goes on. It seems like it never ends. The sheer volume of material and the sheer pace at which the material is presented is enough to burn out even the brightest of minds. At times I felt overwhelmed and yet underachieving because despite the hours of studying, I still felt as if I wasn’t making progress.

I’ll always remember when I walked into Preceptorship and introduced myself to one of the residents who was at the family clinic:
“Hi! I’m Evan, I’m a medical student”
He asked, “Great! I’m Dr. X, are you a third year?”
“No, first year”
Grinning, he responded, “Aw no! That means you’re useless!”

||Read Develop Compassion Before Medical School | The Formula For A Good Personal Statement||

Although comical, that conversation portrays exactly how being a first year medical student can feel at times. Even though I had dedicated the entire past year to learning medicine, I still had leaps and bounds to go before I could effectively begin to treat patients. That day at Preceptorship, I was working with two 4th year medical students, 2 residents and an attending physician. I was, by far, the dumbest person in the room. And I realized how inspirational that was.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” – Unknown

As a first year medical students, everybody that you interact with is a potential mentor and teacher. They have gone through medical school and have likely developed their own tricks and pearls that they utilize daily. Whether it’s older medical students, professors, residents, nurses, or attending physicians, everybody can teach you something. When I shadowed in the ED last month, a resident took an extra 10 minutes to explain ECG readings to me, and what I learned from him will stay with me much longer than any textbook paragraph. One of my problem based learning tutors told us a story about a teenage boy who he treated for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, and his vignette allows me to always remember the clinical symptoms.

We must be lifelong learners. We must approach every opportunity as a chance to further our understanding of medicine. Most of all, we must remain humble and curious as we care for each other’s wellbeing. Every bit of knowledge we retain may benefit a patient’s health in the future.

||Read What To Expect In Medical School Part 1 | Part 2||

Evan Shih

Evan Shih is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and also graduated from UCLA undergrad in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science. He hopes his efforts on PDr can provide the guidance and reassurance that readers seek along the medical journey. When he’s not studying, Evan likes to hike, swim, and spend time with his family in Orange County.

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