Medical School is not the Most Important Thing in my Life

My week did not go according to plan.  Over the weekend, I planned a week filled with classes, labs, meetings, and studying.  A few days later I was boarding a plane to go back home and attend a funeral.  I have spent much of my time this last week making travel arrangements and trying to shuffle my medical school obligations around.  It has reminded me of something that I rarely think about:  How truly low medical school falls on my list of priorities.

“Whhhaaat?” you say.  “But Emma! You love medical school–you never come home anymore because you are so busy with those obligations.  How can it be low on your priority list?”

Easy.  Medical school is very important to me, but I’m not even sure it breaks the top five important things on my list.  And I think this sentiment is universal for other professions, schools, and responsibilities.  Here are some reasons why.

Medical school is not more important than my friends and family.  I will never tell someone I love that I cannot help them because I have class.  There is no amount of assignments that could make me ignore the needs of a friend.  This is not noble or self sacrificing–it is simply the right thing to do.

Medical school is not more important than my health.  It would be easy to run myself into the ground, staying up all night studying for every quiz.  But I would be running on fumes.  If the difference between passing a 5 point quiz is more than 2 hours of my potential sleeping time, it is not worth it.  Now, major tests are a bit of a different story, but you get the picture.

Medical school is not more important than my happiness.  Medical school is difficult and I am not perfectly happy every second of my day.  But I am satisfied in the work that I am doing.  I am truly fulfilled by my studies.  I am not belittled by my peers or professors.  But if these things were not true, I would not sacrifice my emotional health just to become a doctor–I would have to re-evaluate.

These are things that have been true no matter where I was in my life.  And I think its important to have your priorities firmly established.  Otherwise, when a situation arises, its hard to know the right thing to do.

It is easy to get confused.  Right not–to me–medical school is one of the most overwhelming things in my life.  I spend most of my day studying to do better in school.  It is almost all that I talk about.  So when a situation comes about that jeopardizes my school commitment, I always pause.  If I am threatening my studies by binge-watching all the seasons of scrubs (except that last season, which was terrible), I should possibly reconsider. But if I need to skip school for a family emergency, then I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

Because there is more to life than studying.  Being a good human being outweighs being a medical student any day.  No matter what you are doing with your life–whether you plan to go to graduate school, or are involved in a demanding job–its important to understand what you deem to be important in your life.  If I died tomorrow, I won’t regret the times I didn’t study.  I won’t wish that I had worked more.

I know that these decisions will get harder as time goes on.  Soon I will have to balance the needs of my patients against my obligations to family and friends.  When I have children, how often will I have to miss their activities because I have to work?  How can I let my patients down if I have to leave town to take care of personal business?  The situations that I encounter in the future will become more intricate and ambiguous–I have no control over this.  The only thing that I can do is remember the things that are most important in my life and try to make decisions accordingly.


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