Every year I have to get 30 CMEs (Continuing Medical Education Credits) in order to renew my license to practice medicine. Right now I’m at a conference in Phoenix put on by the AANP (American Association of Naturopathic Physicians). It’s been educational, in more ways than one.
In general, med school did not generate a lot of happy memories for me. When I was a med student, I went from being pretty social and outgoing to more or less a hermit. Mine was a “get the degree and get out” kind of experience (to borrow an expression from a dear friend of mine). You might think most med students are this way, but no, not that I could tell. Naturopaths are a social bunch by nature. The other students all seemed to study together, celebrate together after exams, and party together on weekends.
Not me. I either sat in class, did rotations, or studied 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for four years straight. I was in a study group for the first year, but although I enjoyed it, the social drama started to affect my grades. So for the subsequent three years, I studied alone.
I had more than a few of those quintessential “med student” experiences of being berated by attending physicians for my stupidity, in front of the entire shift. As a result, I developed some gut problems which, interestingly enough, lasted the exact duration of those particular rotations.
Before EMR software (Electronic Medical Records), I had to prep for patients at clinic instead of at my house, because HIPAA laws prohibit taking patient charts home. While I was doing this once, I remember overhearing nearby classmates chatting and laughing about their weekend adventures, and I felt so lonely. I knew I *could* have jumped in and chatted with them too, at least asking questions — but I had only these 30 minutes to prep, so it was between being social and showing up unprepared (thus getting publicly ridiculed for my stupidity again), or being antisocial, but responsible. Instead of doing either one, I spent that 30 minutes mentally berating myself for the fact that I was unable to “do it all.” I went to my car afterwards and cried. (And called my mom.)
All that to say, I don’t have a lot of positive associations with my med school experience. I’m not complaining — I grew a great deal as a person, I learned a HECK of a lot, and I absolutely love my profession now. I’ve been *super* blessed by the opportunity to do what I do. But being here at the AANP is like med school deja vu: sitting in lectures all day long with former classmates and professors and being blasted with massive amounts information, as if by firehose. Even though I’ve rediscovered my sociability in the years I’ve been out, in this environment I feel the old pull to hide and disengage, as if no time has gone by at all. They say adult children tend to revert back to their childhood “role” in the family when they go back home for a visit; it’s probably something like that.
Last night I had dinner with some (non-doctor) friends living in Phoenix. After I described this phenomenon, one of my friends commented to me, “But it’s always worthwhile to be friendly. You never know when networking might pay off down the line.” I think I glared at him a little… but he’s right. Years ago, I was working at Starbucks and expected to be there only a few months, so I thought, what’s the point in investing in my coworkers? I’m not going to be here long enough for it to generate lasting relationships anyway. So I showed up, did my job, and left. Then a few months in, I heard a sermon that really convicted me to “grow where I was planted.” From then on, I made a concerted effort to get to know every one of my coworkers, and I mean really know them. I learned their stories. I asked lots of questions. We talked about God and politics and philosophy. And you know what? Not only did Starbucks turn out to be one of my favorite jobs ever, but one of the friends I met there was later in my class in med school. Towards the very end of my program, when all kinds of bureaucratic awfulness went down (my last 6 months were by far the worst of the whole experience… looong story), that friend turned out to be the one who mobilized my entire class to fight the administration on my behalf, when I couldn’t fight anymore. He may very well have been the reason why that nasty experience turned into a victory in the end.
So I’ve decided to be social and have a good time here… and to leave the past where it belongs.