There is something to be learned from failure. Every setback is a stepping stone, and every unforeseen obstacle is a step to climb in order to better yourself. At least these are the things I keep telling myself.
I have been feeding an idea of mine for quite some time now – an invention. I wanted to create an umbilical clamp that was infused with an antiseptic to reduce the staggering neonatal mortality rates in rural areas due to umbilical cord infections. I had an idea and began sprinting with it, without a single doubt or question in my mind (Lesson one). I began reaching out to anyone and everyone I could, which led me on some crazy adventures. From sitting at a conference table in front of the board of the University Invention Office (they mistook me for faculty), to meeting with one of the most influential physicians in Global Health, I grabbed any strings for help and advice that I could. Then, in the blink of an eye, I found the patent.
Another medical student invented my device 6 years ago.
A medical student, just like me, with the same vision and idea in mind, revolutionized neonatal global health. He won an impressive amount of money and awards and started a company selling the devices, and is now a surgical fellow at Standford. I can’t describe the feeling of disappointment that has developed after this discovery, except maybe a lead bowling ball sitting in my chest. The endless hours and weeks I spent researching mechanisms and designs for my idea, the countless emails trying to reach out to someone who could steer me in the right direction, and the looming workload of lecture material that continuously piled on top of me while I replaced studying with research and meetings – all for nothing (or so it seems).
And then I heard my mother’s words: “You know Morgan, one day you will invent something else that will change this world, and some other little student will be exactly in your shoes.” She always has the most unique perspective on things. But she’s right – this isn’t the last problem I will try to tackle. There will be others, and some will fail, and I need to accept that. But other’s will thrive. And a thousand failures is worth one success that saves one life.
Every syllable stems from a seed.
Every word that emerges from your mouth can be linked to some convoluted fissure in your brain, whether you realize it or not. Actions, memories, lessons, realizations – they are all tossed into these troughs to bury their roots and begin sprouting. Sometimes you can mask this hidden garden during conversation, but eventually, if someone listens long enough they will begin to see short, fleeting glances into the origin of your words.
It is impossible to misspeak, when you really think about it. Those words simply poured out of your mouth, directly from the seeds they were born from, and you did not react quickly enough to brush them away.
Dear pre-med self,
I see you working tirelessly to scramble to this big, lofty goal of medical school. I’m proud of you. It will pay off. I know you’re scared beyond belief at the fear of failure, but don’t be; you’ll get here.
Medical school is everything you ever hoped it would be. The air feels lighter wearing your crisp white coat with the cool rubber of your stethoscope around your neck. You become a member of a secret society, granting you permission to learn the amazing wonders of your body. I know you’ve taken Anatomy and Physiology, but just wait until you are peering inside a cadaver and listening how the oocyte is expelled from the ovary and caught like a baseball by the delicate fingers of the fimbrae.
I know you’re worried that you will drop off the face of the earth once you start school. This is true. You do find time to call family and close friends, and seeing them is essential to remain balanced. But I will tell you a secret: medical school is another world. You step inside, and suddenly you are plopped into the middle of a new family, new responsibilities, and a chaotic schedule. This family becomes your lifeline: you chatter in class, text through the night about questions you encounter while studying, and celebrate the weekends together. You will still find time to do things you love, like go to the gym and blog, but that is your concise window of free time and it doesn’t leave much room for much else. Simply put, you are really too busy to stay on top of the influx of texts, so they eventually subside.
I know medical school must sound like a sparkling fantasy. And for the most part, that is honestly the truth. But of course, there are down sides as well. You spend a lot of time studying, but you love school so you won’t mind. You will miss out on activities you really wanted to go to, like going to your first football game or going to the pumpkin patch with Sage. But it’s worth it, I promise. You will have classmates that will be reveal their superficial truth. So find a few friends that are genuine and make you laugh, and hold them close. You will get caught up in the competition between classmates and who receives the higher score on the test; but don’t. Always help your classmates and be friendly. To squeeze the most out of these 4 years, it won’t be the 5 points on the test that will help you succeed, but instead it will be the relationships you build.
So, little pre-med, keep fighting. You will get here. And I promise it is everything you hoped it’d be.
Sweaters and blonde roasts.
Early morning gym sessions before the sun, a flurry of clothes, and marching with my bouncing, overstuffed backpack into the school of medicine.
Sleepovers in the mountains with my sister and my favorite tiny human on the planet, beet smoothies, and wobbly trips in the dark to warm a bottle.
Two bright, smiling faces greeting me after class, a pile of jelly beans, alternating stethoscopes on chests.
We shuffle around in our white coats, pointing at others’ scribbled notes and explaining our reasoning. Our fingers try to learn the unfamiliar bumps of the sternum beneath the skin. We are learning a new language. This novel vocabulary describes vessels and hormones and the inner mechanics of our fundamental cells. Like elementary children preparing for a Spelling Bee, we rely on repetition to engrain these foreign sounds and concepts into our growing minds. A line is being drawn. Standing on one side, we gaze over the line at everyone else with their worries about what to cook for dinner, how to solve the new problem at work, and when they are going to find time to do their laundry. In each one of us, there is a pang of jealousy. We sigh a breath of yearning for their straight-forward lives. We fight sleep, accept a state of chaos in our lives, and aim to achieve the impossible by retaining more information than we ever thought possible. We are not much different on our side of the line. Laundry and dinner still worry our minds, too. But we are also trying to understand cancer, to wrap our heads around the diverging pathways of insulin regulation that is driving the diabetic epidemic, to plant tiny seeds in our minds trying to figure out how we will each change the world.
We are nothing but little humans donning white coats,
who have stepped over a line.
Medical school comes in waves.
One week, I’ll be sailing along relatively calm waters, basking in my fortune of having the opportunity to attend medical school. During these weeks, my days run smoothly and I literally bounce out of bed to seek out the next unbelievable wonder of the human body.
Other weeks, I swear the waves nearly swallow me whole. My stress levels overflow (like they often do), priorities fall by the wayside, and I feel like the floor has been ripped out from underneath me. I fling to anything I can find and hold on for dear life, hoping that somehow this downpour of information sticks somewhere in my brain, wondering how I got myself in this mess in the first place.
Then the sunshine emerges again. Whether it’s during cadaver lab as my tweezers trace an entire arterial system from the diaphragm to the pelvis, or wrapping my head around the embryonic period where our bowls protrude from our body (for no apparent reason), then coil their way back inside, and I am hit with that all-too-familiar wonder.
But I am learning. More is not always better. I cannot emphasize that enough. There were a few weeks where I didn’t even give myself time to eat. Within 5 minutes of waking, I was studying. When I was walking to the bus stop, studying. Only giving myself 4 hours to sleep. It drained every drop of excitement and passion for medicine out of my body. Then I remembered, this is not a sprint – it’s a marathon.
So as I sit here, freshly showered, lathered in cocoa butter, dishes clean and my house spotless, I can sit back and coast, for just a little while.