I’ve heard that at the beginning of a yoga session, people may set an intention to guide that period of time and help it translate into life as a whole. While I haven’t formally done yoga before, I really like the idea of setting intentions.
In past years, I’ve picked a word or phrase to help guide the year in lieu of writing out a list of January resolutions (which I never seem to look at again anyways). This year, I set an intention to be curious about life and each new experience it brings. I was in the tentative first few weeks of a new relationship as 2016 rolled in, and my goal of embracing curiosity helped me to keep my heart open to the day-by-day unfolding of what has now become a beautiful part of my life.
I’m finding that sometimes life can knock the wind out of you, and other times it can give you wings to fly. The relationship that started with curiosity has been an incredibly wonderful instance of the latter.
Time has been moving quickly, and now I’m exactly 30 days away from starting my first clinical rotation. The idea of setting an intention is coming up again, this time because I’ve spent a portion of the past two days thinking about what it means to be a compassionate medical caregiver. I’ve also been spending a good deal of time pondering how on earth I’m going to manage being a clinical student. I’m 26 now, and I can see that I’ve grown a lot (especially in the past year), but I’m still trying to figure out who I am. So perhaps part of this is a cry from my soul to reaffirm who I am, to reconnect with the reasons I am in medicine.
I’ve decided I want to set an official intention for my clinical years. I already have one (hopefully) realistic goal for clinics: walk into my rotation on Day 1 with my head up, get along well with my team, learn from the mistakes I make, connect with the patients I’m assigned to follow, and walk out the door at the end of the day with my head still up.
As the lyrics go, chin up buttercup.
I also want to have a broader intention for my full 16 months of clerkships. I think I’m starting to sort that out as I try to chart the courses of the rivers draining into the cognitive and emotional depths of who I am. What are the reasons at the core of why I want to be a physician? Why am I doing this? What is going to get me out of bed every day for the next several decades?
It reminds me of when I was in the throes of applying to medical school several years ago, asking the same question–why medicine?–as I agonized over my AMCAS application form and the ensuing secondary essay questions. I actually went back to some of those essays today, blowing dust from the computer files. It was like opening a time capsule and reliving the tense anticipation of applying to medical school: waiting for a secondary application invitation…waiting for an interview…waiting on pins-and-needles for an acceptance.
Are my reasons still the same as they were when I was a 22-year old student fresh out of undergrad? I believe they are, at their core, although they’ve evolved and grown with the passage of time.
Sitting down with my journal, I parsed out four reasons why I am in medicine:
- When I’m able to bring a moment of compassionate connection into a hospital room or patient interaction, I feel like my soul has been nourished (and hope the feeling is mutual with the person I’ve connected with).
- I enjoy being able to share information; it’s gratifying and gives me the sense that I’m contributing something to other’s lives.
- Medicine is full of stories if I stop to pay attention and listen to them. I want to learn people’s stories and give them the space to share them, if they want to. This ties in to reason #1.
- Learning engages my mind and makes me feel incredibly happy and alive. The medical field is one of lifelong learning. This leads to reason #2.
Ultimately, I found that everything can be reduced to the following: (1) I find compassionate connection with other humans to be deeply satisfying and meaningful and (2) I enjoy the personal growth and sense of contribution to society that comes from learning new information, thinking critically, and teaching others.
So these are the bare-bones reasons of why I am in medicine. Medicine is an environment where compassion and information-sharing can be practiced on a daily basis, and it positions me at a time point in peoples’ lives where this is especially needed. I personally found, when undergoing a minor (but painful) medical procedure recently, the only two things I cared about were whether I trusted my provider (i.e. whether I felt he cared about and respected me as a person) and whether he was competent (i.e. could do everything efficiency and effectively). I know everyone has unique priorities when interacting with the medical team, but I feel that trust and competency would likely show up as common themes. And those are words I’d like to be able to be applied to me.
I actually feel a bit vulnerable sharing all this on my blog, because it gets down to why I’m doing what I’m doing. And of course, there’s always the question, is it enough? Are my reasons good enough? And am I? I have to believe that I am, and that I can do this. I may not become the absolute best at what I do, but I will try my absolute best.
So my intention for the next year and a half? To be compassionate, to pay attention to people’s stories, to accept that I’ll make mistakes, and to do what I can to learn from them.
In a word?