The Difficult Classmate

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During my first rotation, Surgery, I didn’t work with another student for the entire eight weeks. I spent a lot of time beating myself up, wondering if I was doing the right things and if I should have been doing more. I was excited when I got my Peds schedule which had me teamed up with various students throughout our eight week rotation. Unfortunately, my first two weeks on the inpatient service began sourly due to a negative interaction with a classmate and someone who I thought was a good friend.

I’ve heard horror stories of medical students “gunning,” or trying to make oneself look better at the expense of dragging other students down. Even though I had already heard some unsavory stories about classmates this year, I decided, up front, not to blindly believe or fall into the gossip, especially since I don’t know many people in my new class. I like to and choose to see the best in people, and I refuse to believe that as future doctors with the common goal of caring for patients in the most compassionate and painless way possible, we wouldn’t help each other become the best doctors we can be. Maybe it’s naïve and optimistic, but providing and learning how to provide exemplary care absolutely takes priority over “looking good” or getting the best grades.

That’s why I was so troubled when another student on my service confronted me that she felt I was acting out of place. The patient she had been following was being discharged that day, and our senior resident asked who wanted to complete the patient’s discharge paperwork. I made (what I thought was) an encouraging look her way, as if to say, “You’ve gotten to know this patient and his family. Please, continue to work with them!” She, instead, expressed anger that I had assigned her work to do. That it was not my place to do so. That it was the senior resident’s job to tell us what to do. That she would never do that to me.

I was appalled that my seemingly considerate action could be so misconstrued! I quickly apologized, trying to explain that it was not my intention at all, and that, if anything, I thought I was being proactive and ensuring that I wouldn’t take on tasks concerning her own patient. Interrupting me, she rolled her eyes, angrily saying, “No, you are wrong,” as she turned and walked away from me, my cut-off words of apology and explanation dissolving into thin air.

I later approached her to ask if I could speak with her. After much resistance to a conversation (like, really?), I explained to her my gratitude that she had brought up the issue with me, my apologies that I had hurt her, and my promise to try to avoid making anyone feel the way that I had made her feel. I also told her about my own sadness and frustration that she hadn’t been receptive to my feelings about and perspective on the situation. I felt like what should have been a discussion of how we could ameliorate and avoid the situation in the future became a litany of things I had done wrong, things that were not meant to be malicious, as she implied.

As an introvert who absolutely hates confrontation and conflict, I was proud that I had asserted myself and my feelings in an uncomfortable situation. My heart still pounds thinking about it! I wish I could say that my bravery and sincerity in trying to smooth over a simple misunderstanding was well received, but instead, I left frustrated, with her last words ringing in my head: “I’ve wanted to be a pediatrician for 15 years.” As if that was an excuse for her attitude towards me.

I spent the long, awkward remainder of my time working with her walking on eggshells, trying not to offend her. I was hyperaware of everything I did, every word I said. I second guessed my actions, afraid that it would be misinterpreted. I tried extra hard to make amends, delivering heartfelt, legitimate congratulations when she did well on her oral presentation to the attending and asking her about her weekend. But anything and everything I did seemed to irritate her. And this still seems to be the case almost two months later.

This sucky circumstance has made me realize a few things:

1) The situation is totally out of my hands, and if she doesn’t have the desire or capacity to forgive me and move on, there is nothing I can do to change her mind.

2)  I don’t need to go out of my way to impress people or try to get them to like me. Obviously, being rude is never the answer, but I don’t need to bend over backwards for anyone and everyone I meet, especially if they have only demonstrated the opposite of kindness to me themselves.

3) There’s always going to be people in the workplace and in life that we just don’t mesh with. Maintaining professionalism within a team is essential for it to function at its highest (and happiest!) level. When a problem does arise, we have to be pros at learning how to address, solve, and diffuse a problem, all without compromising patient care. It can be uncomfortable to assert yourself and sometimes even demand that you be heard out, but if it will help you function better as a member of the team, it’s important. Your attitude affects everyone else on the team, for better or for worse. A happy and in sync team will better be able to provide better care to our patients, and that’s what it’s all about!

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#transformationtuesday

This isn’t a “before” and “after” picture. It’s simply me in two different stages in my life. Neither is more “beautiful” or “better” than the other, they are both simply me.

Kelly Roberts (@kellykkroberts)

"This isn't a 'before' and 'after' picture. It's simply me in two different stages in my life. Neither is more 'beautiful' or 'better' than the other. They are both simply me."-@kellykkroberts ••• The difference between last year vs. this year at the #mohawkhudsonhalfmarathon = 8 minutes and 25 seconds, 20 pounds (apparently lost only in my face 🙂), and MOST importantly, a more confident, happy self running, school, and everything-wise! (P.S. More #transformationtuesday/#TMItuesday on da blog. Because I didn't wanna study tonight. 💁🏻) ••• #medschool #medstudent #womeninmedicine #medschoolproblems #medschoollife #medschooldiaries #oisellevolée #capitalregionbirds #womensrunningcommunity #wrctransformation

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As I received my medal at the Mohawk Hudson Half-Marathon last Sunday, I couldn’t help but smile, (slightly deliriously) reflecting on where I was a year ago. Yes, the difference is obvious in my almost eight and a half minute improvement in time and the scale shows I’ve lost 20 pounds, but the only change that really matters is the one you can’t necessarily see from the results and my outward appearance.

A year ago, I was a hot mess. I had just restarted my second year of med school (mais ça, c’est une autre histoire…), feeling completely embarrassed, fragile, and alone without my usual school friends and comfort zones to lean on. The previous seven months had been a whirlwind of confusion, self-doubt, and lack of direction. It’s scary not knowing what your next step is, but it’s even scarier realizing you are the only one who can make that decision about your next step.

I tried to make the most of my semester-long hiatus from school: I gained clinical experience working with a local doctor in her private practice, accompanied her on house calls to local assisted living homes, and provided direct care to patients with dementia and other illnesses at her own assisted living home. I trained to become an SAT tutor with hopes of becoming better prepared for my own battles against future standardized tests. I finished out my duties on the Albany Tulip Court and volunteered as a Running Buddy for our local Girls on the Run chapter to stay connected with my community. I signed up for an Ironman, something on my bucket list, and raised almost $8,500 with my family, friends, and school community for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my grandfather who had been struggling with the illness for four years and the patients I had worked with during my time off.

It all culminated with my grandfather passing away, a sprinkle of seizures, and a series of doctors’ appointments and tests. With a miraculous medical clearance, only eight days after my seizures, I finished the 140.6 mile race. Some called it “badass,” while others bluntly told me I was, “idiotic,” but for me, it was redemption for all of the frustration that had built up over the past year and my mistakes I just wanted to close the chapter on.

My second year of med school (take 2) after that “fun” summer, I was on edge. Despite witnessing my body succeed after pushing its limits in such an extreme endurance event, I didn’t trust it to not fail me again. I felt like everyone I saw was judging me, and I purposely avoided the library at school because it made me so anxious. I feared the grind was too much, that I wasn’t cut out for this doctor thing. I was ready to quit the moment I hit another stumbling block. I’m a crier, but even for me, there was a lot of crying.

But with each passing test, I regained my confidence little by little. I surrounded myself with a strong network of a family who has seen me through my highest highs and lowest lows, the most patient and supportive boyfriend, and a few solid friends who would drop anything to be there for me. They constantly remind me that I can do anything I set my mind to and that God will see me through any and all challenges I may encounter this year and beyond. For them and a gracious God, I am beyond blessed.

This year, I’m still a hot mess. BUT I’ve also survived my second year of med school, Step 1 of Boards (and lived to tell the tale!), and have been loving life on my rotations learning from patients, my peers, and physicians alike. I still don’t feel like I belong 100% 75% 50% of the time, but everyday I get better at asking for help, projecting confidence, and finding my voice. I know the people and prayers I can rely on when things start to feel dark again.

Are we ever really polished, final products? I like to think I’m always striving for a better version of myself than I was last year, last month, yesterday. I guess a #workinprogresswednesday might have been more appropriate than a #transformationtuesday!

The Girl in the Sports Bra

Race day.

I double knot my shoes and redo my ponytail for the fifth time this morning. My watch is synced, my thumb on the start button. Imprecise quantities of excitement and nervousness permeate the crisp fall air surrounding my best running-clothed self. I step up to the starting line and look ahead.

There she is. Just behind the men in shorter shorts than my own, the super fast looking woman in just spandex shorts and sports bra stands confidently in front of me. I’ve seen her a million times before: winning cross country races in high school and college, calmly gliding on the treadmill at the gym, and flaunting her toned abs on Instagram. Her confidence radiates like sunbeams ricocheting off her perfectly sculpted figure, and I swear I hear the echoing hum of angels projecting from behind her. Simultaneously intimidated and in awe, I start my watch as the gun goes off and watch her sprint ahead.

I can’t help but gawk. Her form is effortless. Her flawless anatomy seems made for running, and her arms and legs move in perfect synchrony and rhythm. She picks off the men, all while looking like she’s just out for her morning jog. She maintains equal parts tenacity and poise while surging ahead of her nearest competitors without batting an eye. Goodness, how does she make it look so easy?

I look down at my own body. I suddenly feel awkward and uncoordinated. My arms flail, crossing my body, while my legs struggle to maintain my stride as I ascend the hill. My breathing is labored, my movements beyond inefficient. I’m timid in moving past other runners, unsure as to whether they will re-pass me in another quarter mile. My eyes gravitate towards my watch to check my pace every two seconds. I have at least 30 pounds on her, and I feel every extra ounce in each step I take.

My mind begins to cloud with the same self-destructive thought that creeps up on me in almost every race:

I’m too fat for this.

It’s a bit of a complicated relationship, this running and body image thing. On one hand, this beautiful sport has taught me to embrace what my body can do, not what it looks like. It’s impossible not to respect that this incredible body of mine has literally carried itself on a bicycle across the country, completed an Ironman triathlon, and run thousands of miles over my lifetime. It’s fought hard and won epic battles against injuries, high mileage weeks, and sleep-deprived nights of studying.

At the same time, the competitive, perfectionist part of me repeatedly tears this same body down. I reprimand myself for not being able to say no to that ice cream, essentially choosing not to look and run like that girl in the sports bra. The harshest part of my brain tells myself that the less excess body weight I have, the faster I can be. I put so much time, effort, and mental space into running. Is it really that much harder to eat healthier and lose weight? Aren’t I better than this? Don’t I want to see how fast I can get?

It wasn’t always this way. The unwelcome negative words judging the way my body looks, how it should look, and how I’m so far from that ideal echo endlessly in my head, covertly chipping away at my self-value and worth. I’m reminded of the girl on the bus telling me, “You’re fat and ugly, and everyone in my homeroom thinks so, too.” I re-feel the insecurity provoked by the coach who transformed a discussion of my academic pursuits to one about my weight. I struggle, yet again, with the well-intentioned comments from family members that my joint pain and inability to own faster PRs would disappear if I shed more than a couple pounds. I carry so many unsolicited opinions and pieces of advice that I would give away without a second thought if I was in the business of making others feel awful about themselves.

Does it even matter? I know I’ll never be more than a slightly above average age group runner, but, honestly, the ramifications of such comments have affected me more than I’d like to admit, even beyond running. It’s more than easy to let these pessimistic lies snowball, a slippery slope of self-doubt and contempt that creep into my everyday, non-running life. As much as I try to cover up my insecurities with loose bandages of smiles and positivity, an “I’m feeling slow and fat today” quickly morphs into “I’m not and will never be good enough,” running and otherwise.

I shake my head purposefully and refocus. Maybe I don’t and may never look like her, but I’ve worked and will continue to work hard, too. Mile by mile I’ve slowly but surely mustered up something that almost resembles confidence, and I’m prepared to use it.

She might as well have a target on her back because I’ve made it my mission to reach her. My arms relax, my stride widens, and I take deep breaths. With each expiration, I forcefully kick my anxiety of and frustration with those hurtful words of my past to the curb. I reach deep in my memory, recalling the hours upon hours of training to get to where I am at this very moment. The sacrificed time and energy I spent burning off a disheartening day of work, catching up with friends, daydreaming about anything and everything, and getting to know myself more intimately are moments I wouldn’t give up for anything. The opportunities to test my physical and mental limits, to be disciplined in something when school is daunting and unpredictable, and to bond with others over a common passion are all God-given gifts that I truly cherish. My growing confidence and faith in my running ultimately translates to a growing confidence and faith in myself as a med student, future doctor, and general human being. These deep-rooted insecurities will always haunt me, but for a few miles, I’m able to reflect on the amazing journey towards inner peace that my (imperfectly) beautiful body has led me to. 

A smile widens on my face. I don’t look like her, and I’ve re-remembered that that’s okay. I, too, can be the confident, fast girl in the sports bra without changing anything about myself, including my body. But regardless of how we look and our times, what matters is that we do what makes us smile and respect our bodies as the amazing machines that they are.

These deep-rooted insecurities will always haunt me, but for a few miles I'm able to reflect on the amazing journey towards inner peace that my (imperfectly) beautiful body has led me to. • • • Some (entirely too personal) thoughts on body image, self-confidence, and sports bras over on the blog today (see above for link)! Holla at @moiraleigh03 for participating in Operation-Take-Awkward-Pictures-in-Sports-Bras and 7ish effortless miles in the dark! • • • #strongnotskinny #sportsbrasquad! #medschool #medstudent #womeninmedicine #medschoolproblems #medschoollife #medschooldiaries #oisellevolée #capitalregionbirds #womensrunningcommunity #runnerscommunity #runnershoutouts #runshots #halfmarathontraining #mohawkhudsonhalfmarathon

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