The 5 Letter Word

I recently spent a morning on palliative care and I wondered, “How do you deal with so much death and dying?” My preceptor declared that there were many things more terrifying than death. With her patients, she has the opportunity to consider quality of life and contemplate death on a daily basis; things like, where do we go when we die? While it seemed calming to her, it sounded terrifying to me.

We went to visit a patient who was admitted to in-patient hospice. According to the doc, death was near.

She looked comfortable, sedated with pain medication, but to the touch she was very warm. Her heart beat fast, her breathing irregular, her eyes closed. I introduced myself before placing my stethoscope to her skin. Did she hear what I was saying? Did she understand who I was? Her husband sat next to her and held her hand. Their tiny, fluffy dog moved about the room. For just a few moments, it didn’t feel like a hospital.

Death would not happen today, but maybe tomorrow.

So, I asked her, “How do you deal with so much death and dying?”. The doctor said there were things more fearful than dying, and maybe that’s why there are so many books, movies, and bucket lists on death. Maybe the thing we fear more than leaving this earth, is leaving this earth without truly living our lives. Were you present with the people in your life? Did you tell people you loved them? Were you vulnerable in that conversation even though it scared you? Did you take risks, laugh often, cry freely? These aren’t the things that make a life lived-well, but they might mean that you were truly yourself and maybe that makes a life well-lived.

Welcome to Phase 2

Last Monday morning, Carley drove up to my house and handed me a pink T-shirt. The back read, “Camp CU SOM” and featured an image of a fire amongst the trees. We were headed for Estes Park, Colorado where we would help welcome 184 new students to the first phase of their medical education.

Contrast orientation from this year to last year and you get a different impression. Nervous, anxious, doubting and self-conscious are all words that you could use to describe me 365 days ago. This year, I was excited, relaxed and carefree. It was refreshing to catch up with classmates after 9 weeks, knowing that we had made it this far; we are MS2’s [medical student, year 2].

As time passes and we reach these arbitrary milestones, it’s comforting to know that we’ve successfully made it over some of the hurdles. I’m not saying that we’ve done it all cleanly. There have been a few times when I’ve crashed hard into the ground, stood up and brushed it off. There will be a few scars by the time medical school is over. Maybe a few extra lines in the furrow of my brow from the late nights in the library and early mornings in lecture, but you know,  we made it past anatomy.

At orientation, I looked around at all of the new faces, knowing that people were nervous, anxious, doubting and self-conscious. I felt for them, but I also felt relieved that I wasn’t in their shoes anymore.

Today, on my first day of the second year, I spilled coffee on myself in the car. Then I walked into the full lecture hall and was immediately overwhelmed by all of the people. I felt alone and short of breath. What happened to the confidence from only one week ago?

Today, on my first day of the second year, I spilled coffee on myself not once, but three times. Is that a sign for the year to come?

Phase 2 is a doozy of a year. We start off with the Nervous System, before moving on to Digestive, Endocrine, Metabolism. Finishing with Life Cycle, Infectious Disease and a 7-week dedicated study period.

This morning I was humbly reminded of the hurdles still out there on the course. Turns out, being a year further in medical school doesn’t mean I’m any less nervous, anxious, or self-conscious.


I’ve decided to write myself a mantra to meditate on this year. A simple reminder of where I have come from and where I want to be in 9 months.

This year will be marked by fearlessness and perseverance. This year will continue to be about showing up and leaning into the challenge of being present. This year we will dare to dream a little bigger and set our sights a little higher.

I challenge you to take a look at your life – Where have you been? Where are you going? Who will you be in 9 months?

Be You.

I’m officially a 4-week old medical student. Not a doctor yet, but people continue to insist that “there’s a doctor in the room if I trip and fall”.

It’s a strange feeling being here. For many of us this has been our dream for a long time. We’ve gone through the whole process of taking the required undergraduate courses, sitting for the MCAT, volunteering, shadowing physicians, holding leadership positions, writing our primary and secondary essays, interviewing, and then finally, waiting to hear the good news. [I wrote about my experience with the application process a while back – you can read it here].

After getting in and receiving the gift to defer I thought I would spend my next year calmly waiting for the moment to arrive. The moment when I would quit my job and move back to Colorado to start school. Instead, I experienced spells of panic after not hearing from CU for a while. I would wake up in a sweat, fearful that I dreamed the whole thing.

That I would show up to orientation on the first day and they wouldn’t be able to find my name on the list.

That it was all a mistake.

There’s a very real name for this feeling – imposter syndrome – and we’ve already talked about it a lot. They are constantly reminding us that we are here for a reason. It’s almost annoying having someone tell you every day that you are good enough, but I can also see why they would want to drill it in our heads that they chose us.

One piece of advice all of the “older” students have shared is to avoid comparison like the black plague. Comparing ourselves to classmates only perpetuates the imposter syndrome. It’s not productive to becoming a doctor, it’s not productive in every day life.

In medical school we are no longer graded on the bell curve [weird, right?], but rather we either pass or we fail. No in-between and no “only 10% of the class gets an A”. Now, I suppose this is created to foster collaboration among a highly competitive group of individuals. The idea being that if we aren’t pitted against each other, then we will be more likely to share our ideas, study tips and success stories. Yet, immediately following my first anatomy exam, all I could think about was how I did and what other people scored.

Comparison doesn’t just stop at the lecture hall door. For instance, some other things I’ve caught myself thinking of in the last few weeks are —

  • How it is that people seem to have solid friend groups established and I’m just trying to remember the names of the people next to me in lecture, plus the 2000 other anatomy terms.
  • How the heck people already know what they want to specialize in and I’m sitting here, interested in pretty much everything.
  • Should I be studying more like everyone else, or am I spending too much time outside of the library.

If comparison is a creature of habit then I’m not writing all of this down to reinforce the habit. I’m writing it down so I can turn around and crush those feelings to bits. My classmates are incredible and they have done things I only dream of accomplishing one day. I am honored to have been chosen to journey through medical school together and it would be a shame to see the adventure marred by self-doubt. What can we accomplish when we truly stop the comparison and work together?

So, I challenge you, today, tomorrow, and the day after that, take a moment and think about how you might be comparing yourself to others. Write these things down, acknowledge them, then crush those feelings to bits.

You are awesome. You’ve been hand selected for the journey that you’re on. Your contribution is important, valued and necessary. You can sit at my table.


On a completely unrelated note – have y’all ever thought of all the things in your bodies? It is absolutely incredibly how many important structures are jam-packed in your armpit. My mind is blown.