The South African academic year commences in January, and last week thousands of students around the country went to university for the first time. Among them are our future doctors.Welcoming them befalls someone else these days, as my time in student government is long gone. But I couldn’t help writing my annual “letter to the newbies”. (If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll have seen that I write something like this practically every January.)
Can you believe you’ve made it? Can you believe you’re here? Well, better start believing, because it has begun!
Perhaps becoming a doctor has been your life-long dream. Perhaps, the idea only came to you in the last few years. Neither of those is superior to the other. Neither of those makes you more or less likely to succeed. Learn that now, and remember it.
Throughout your medical career (which has now STARTED!) people will try to pin down a special formula for the reasons some fail, and others don’t. I wish I could tell you it’s about passion. It’s not. I wish I could tell you that it is all about hard work. But it is not just that, either. (Truly, hard work is required, but you know that already.)
The truth is that medical school is about finding your balance – of life, work, and wellness – and finding it quickly.
But this letter is not about the five to six hard years ahead of you. This letter is about YOU, right NOW.
I want you to take a second to recognise that you will never again find yourself in this position. Right now, you know little or nothing. You are medical-school-naïve. You have so much to learn. You have so many firsts ahead of you. You have so much experience to gain.
Take a moment to appreciate that.
Knowing nothing is not a curse. Being the most junior of juniors is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a beautiful moment in your life, if only you cherish it. Of all of us, you have the most to gain. In the coming months, your life-experience will increase at an exponential curve with the steepest gradient.
As a final year student, I am grateful that I am nearing the end of medical school. But if I could return to a single moment in the past five years, it would be that moment of lying fallow, just before my mind was ploughed and enriched and became verdantwith new information.
There is something pure and promising in where you are now. Find it and remember it, and seek out moments like it.
One last thing, Little First Year: remember that you are FIRST a student, and only THEN a medical student. In South Africa, chances are that this is your first time at university. And that in itself is a time of great uncertainty and growth and fun andhomesickness and crises.
Medicine will try to induce growth by all the means it can. It will pull you and stretch you and drag you around in an effort to mature you as soon as possible. And you might “grow up” sooner than your non-medical peers, because you will see things they won’t.
But you are first and foremost a student, most likely fresh out of high school, so don’t let anybody tell you that you should be all grown up. You have as much right to this exciting first year as your peers.
Hold tight to who you are. Be young. Be excited.