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Finding Home: Reflecting on new beginnings in medicine

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Friday, August 21, 2015

I am rarely homesick.

Despite my passionate disdain for public bathrooms and packing boxes, I love travelling. To me, suitcases are little treasure chests that offer up a challenge to survive with only what is inside them. New addresses, different postal codes, and unfamiliar road names fill me with joy. For years now, my schedule has not been conducive to me taking time off for a vacation. When I travel, I try to relish the experience.

So when I looked at the piles of boxes and unassembled furniture in my new room, illuminated by the dwindling twilight of last August, it came as a surprise that I felt a feeling I never quite had before. Despite being surrounded by almost everything I owned, something was missing. I could not figure out what, so I ignored it, and dove into life as a first year. We were soon swamped with readings, assignments, quizzes, class, learning how to juggle life and an ever changing workload. The feeling persisted.

As the warm autumn sun reddened and browned the maple leaves I saw each morning on my walk to school, my preoccupation with my work continued. I was learning a lot, meeting wonderful people, and discovering a new passion for dance with the most patient choreographer and team I will likely ever meet. The feeling continued.



It was only as the pumpkin spice lattes gave way to piping hot chocolates, and the parkas replaced peacoats, did I realize what had happened. I had arrived for the flight that I would be on for the rest of my life. There would be layovers, new aircraft, and maybe even some continual criers of my own one day, but this was where my loyalty card was now registered. I had arrived.

As undergraduates, grad students, and post-doctoral fellows, we all experienced the same uncertainty of what would come next. We bought easily replaceable furniture, being careful to pick pieces that were easy to transport, assemble, dismantle, and leave behind. We wrote down numbers on napkins that we could recycle, and we may have many nameless entries on our phones of “group members” that we were unsure we would ever see again. We sold our textbooks as soon as we could, with some of us even choosing to burn our notes after a particularly despised course or two. We made fond memories but did not risk getting too attached, never certain of when we would have to pack up and leave again.

That has now changed.

You are now at a position where the rest of your life, if you choose, can be dedicated to the practice of medicine, the art and science of learning and healing. You have made it. It is now time to start accepting that.

I happily accepted the responsibility, challenges, and growth that lay before me last August. What I took more time to recognize was that I was no longer just a student working toward finishing courses and looking ahead at a very murky sea of potential outcomes. I, like you, like the other 2018s, like the 2017s, like the 2016s, and like the newly graduated 2015s, am now a professional student. This is our profession, and we are no longer “applying” in hopes of being selected. We are being trained, in hopes of being able to care with knowledge, skill, respect, compassion, and empathy.



I am rarely homesick but last fall, I certainly was. I felt as though I was travelling on a path I had never been on, without any idea of what was ahead. Unlike the five long years of my undergraduate career, where I always knew where I was heading, my first few months of medicine did not feel that way. I was homesick because I had not quite realized that I had already come home. This was home now; I just had to make it mine.

So the best advice I can give you is to treat this new beginning as a new home, because this is not just another page in the book of your life. It is the start of a new chapter, and for many of us, a chapter we will continue writing until the day we see our last patient, take our last blood pressure, and write our last consult note.  The uncertainty will no doubt follow us, but the fog over our paths has lifted a fair bit, and our way forward is much clearer. So embrace your path; carve little side trails, stop and stare at the stars with a loved one, and feel the warmth of sun on your skin. Your chapter is just beginning – write to your heart’s content.

-Emma Ali, Medicine Class of 2018





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