Independence in Learning

A treat! Another day off during the summertime! Happy (belated) Independence Day! I went to the beach (again) on our day off with my boyfriend, my friend JheriAnne (also an ND student), and her husband Shane. During our afternoon and evening spent grilling, swimming, laughing, and lounging on the beach, JheriAnne and I talked about school (can't escape it!). Particularly relevant to the holiday was our conversation on independence in our studies and decision-making as we plan our schedules and careers. 

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Thanks to JA for capturing this picture of me on Independence Day
with the sun setting into the palm of my hand.

Let me preface this by saying that I am eternally grateful that I can be dependent on my friends at a moment's notice when the work overwhelms me or I have an idea that needs friendly scrutiny. My friends are there for me, and I am there for them. On the other hand, we can all too easily get wrapped up in each other's lives. As students, we spend around 30 hours together each week in class, and then also spend time outside of class recharging in each other's company. I've had to remind myself several times that I am, in fact, on my own journey here, despite how tightly bound my experiences are to those of the students around me.

One major challenge I experience daily is to break away from the established opinions and habits of students I study with, and those that came before me. Both positive and negative judgments about all things from professors to textbooks to scheduling are passed down from upper tri students and have, at times, been toxically pervasive among my peers. As medical students, we are juggling many balls at once, and it is easy to adopt an existing opinion (especially when you've just been thrown into 25+ credits of professional school), but I implore you to never forget to form your own opinions, no matter how exhausted you become. I truly believe independent thought wins when it comes to learning, which is after all, what we're here to do (whether we feel like it today, from this professor, or not.)

I am not suggesting that we just ignore all advice coming from upper tri students.  I am suggesting that we always take that advice with a grain of salt and view the issue through our own eyes, as we experience it on our own, individual journey through medical school.  Remember this tenet of our medicine: every person is different.

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John, Dr. Brad, Mia, Nadene, and a tree circle up
for a short group meditation session beside Lake Janse.

When I was 19, I worked for my mom, an MD, answering phones and filing charts at her dermatology practice. My first free lunch from a drug rep and his conversation with my mother was one of those experiences that every child dreads. I ate my free sandwich in horrified, bug-eyed silence as my mom interrogated this rep about the studies behind the drug he was touting. I swear that man shrank into his chair with every "Yes, but where is the research? I want to see the actual paper you keep referring to." For whatever reason, whether he was new or wasn't given the tools, this drug rep could not provide my doctor mother with the published paper showing the effects of the drug that this lunch was supposed to make her want to prescribe. By the time he slunk out of the office, promising to return with a copy of the published paper for this crazy doctor, I was just about never going to forgive my mom for displaying such unrelenting behavior. She sensed my anxiety and proceeded to explain that she would never prescribe a drug to a patient without knowing as much as possible about it. She would form her own independent opinion based on the evidence, and would not consider prescribing the drug until then. As NDs, we may not have a future full of lunch dates with pharmaceutical reps, but companies pushing supplements, diagnostic tests and other tools might surely come our way in this same fashion.

So, to my peers, I thank you for exercising your independence and forming your own opinions while on your individual journey. At the same time, I thank you for doing so as part of a team of students or interns who are present, ready to learn, and aware that we are all on our own path to doctorhood. And of course, thank you for allowing me my moments of dependence in the form of a hug, an ear, a shared moment of frustration, or a quiet group meditation session.