I really like construction metaphors. In our last course, one of my instructors used brick laying as a metaphor to describe blood clot formation, and the information stuck with me. For years my church has participated in construction projects every Spring Break, and I have learned a lot about how to build something from the ground up to be sustainable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing.
These last few weeks have shown me that the way to build a successful medical career is very similar to building a brick house.
Our undergraduate careers and hard sciences laid a solid foundation to begin our medical education. Without some of the information I learned in biology, chemistry, microbiology, and more, I would have been hearing information for the first time. Reinforcement allowed me to learn at a higher level because I already knew the basic concepts.
Once we arrived at school, we began orientation and a short course that would provide some core basic science information that would be critical for furthering our clinical knowledge. I think of this period like pouring the corners for the house. Some cornerstones were laid, but the important information was poured in like concrete to reinforce key elements. Rebar within the corners of a house keeps the structure from crumbling, and I think of my professors as the rebar for my medical school cornerstones. Without their assistance and guidance, I would be weaker, only learning from books and not conjuring ways that the concepts were related to clinical presentations.
As we continue through our basic science courses, we will be adding information in like rows of bricks within walls. Each piece is interconnected and articulates with the next row, or in the case of medical school, the next class. We are now ending our second week of the infamous human anatomy course, and I am discovering how important my foundation and cornerstones are for my success in this class, and I see daily how much labor goes in to building the walls of my education. However, for successful brick laying, more is required than a solid foundation and skilled labor.
For me, one of the most critical parts of building was always having the ability to clearly reach and see the row I was working on so that I could make sure each brick was laid flush to the wall and level with the other bricks in the row. Since I am so short, after a certain point, I could no longer do the work on my own. This is when we would take a stack of bricks and some 2x4s and lay out scaffolding so that we could all see the work we were doing and work more effectively and carefully. Without scaffolding, a house would never be built past a certain level.
I have learned an incredible amount in this crash course of anatomy, nearly 100 words in the first day alone, but what I have discovered is most important for my success is the scaffold that allows me to do my best work. Without my medical school scaffolding, the family, friends and classmates who lift me up, I would not be able to accomplish this task.
Our school has a beautiful system that divides our class into smaller groups of about 20 who share a study and discussion room, and often share in actually studying and discussing with each other. Over the last few weeks I have realized that my group provides so much more than a think tank. They laugh with me, they cry with me. We rejoice in each other’s successes and we lift people up when they fall behind. We share more than just our frustrations with medical school, but also the intimate parts of our lives: the struggles at home, those secrets from the past, the deepest fears and doubts. We feel each other’s pain and each other’s joy. And our small group extends beyond our doors, because I feel that I have come close to many others outside of that group, and our class works together to help each person gain the knowledge necessary to become great physicians.
I feel that for the last several weeks I have been eating, sleeping, drinking medical school. As you could probably imagine, many important tasks fall to the back burner. I haven’t worked out in weeks, and I have had more fast food this past week than I’d care to admit. But I am lucky, because I have someone who helps me pick up those missing tasks and helps me stay sane throughout this whole process, and he is my scaffolding.
Without Josh I would not make it through medical school. He cooks, he cleans. He rubs the shoulders sore from hunching over books. He wipes the many tears, and puts up with not seeing me until all the work is through. He makes sure romance doesn’t get covered up by the heaps of books and papers by getting flowers, having movie nights, and taking me hiking.
This is perhaps the hardest task I have accomplished so far, and I am so glad I am not doing this alone, because I couldn’t. There are so many nights when I come home exhausted, frustrated, and full of doubt in myself. Josh recognizes those moments, and tries to ease my worries and help facilitate a good study environment, whether that’s making me hot chocolate or running to the store to buy me allergy medication so I’m not even more miserable.
Without scaffolding, you can only make it so far. The project would be left unfinished with all that work put into it for nothing. But my scaffolding makes sure that I finish the work I started, the work that I feel called to do. They remind me of my strengths and help me in my weaknesses. Because of my support system, I feel like this task is possible. And in those days where I doubt my capabilities, I know have something strong to lean on.