How I’d Redo Medical School

Some of the best years of my life were in medical school, but even then, there's a few things I'd do differently. In four words: don't worry too much.

How I’d Redo Medical School

This is a transcript draft for a video I intend on producing later.

When I think back to medical school, I don't think I actually had many regrets per se because generally speaking I tried to deliberately focus on not getting so stuck into the work that I would forget - this time of being young and healthy, and getting to hang out with people that I could truly call my friends, it was actually some of the most fun I'd had ever!

But there are a few things I would have told myself to think about differently. So if I was talking to myself, it'd kind of be like this...

The first is, that you've got to stop feeling bad about being bad at certain things, and instead treat yourself kindly but also with a keen awareness of what reality is and isn't. If you're in medical school, probably you were also the kid in high school that would be unhappy if you lost a single mark from a perfect score on a test. But you can't think that way in life, because life has way too many tests and so many of them don't even matter! So what if your consultant asked you something but you didn't know the answer? The fact that you didn't know the answer is actually good, because it tells you that that's something that you can go and learn, and should learn. Rather than feel upset that you didn't know the answer, you should be happy that you might have gotten exposed to something that you didn't even know was a problem before.

The second is that you shouldn't worry too much about things like "if I don't learn this particular thing, people will die." There are medical students that are really confident, and if that's you that's totally cool, but I think rather than being super confident and cool I've definitely had my fair share of times where I, why didn't I know this? Will I really be a good doctor? Will I really know how to actually help people?

I have two thoughts to challenge this. One comes from Ray Dalio who wrote the book Principles, and the other comes from just reflecting on it. Ray Dalio said something like, if you think about it, we're just one human amongst many billions of humans, and humans are one species amongst billions of species on our planet, which is among many billions of planets in the universe, of which there are many universes that we'll never even reach. So really, in the grand scheme of things, the things that we do are actually really insiginificant, although rather than be completely depressed about it all we can always matter a tiny bit.

In terms of my own reflection...sure, you'll get times where you make mistakes and those mistakes hurt people. But chances are, if you're trying hard, you're going to be helping many many more people than you hurt. If you know you're going to help 100 people but know that unfortunately 1 will suffer in the process...that still seems like a worthwhile endeavour, you've still achieved your overarching goal of helping people, right?

And even if you made that number way more extreme, and you only ever help a single person in your entire life...certainly, you may not have helped a large number of people in the world, but to that one person you've possibly changed their entire world. Even if you're not in medical school, I feel this still applies. So I would focus on being better and trying hard for that sake of that one person, because if your actual goal is to help people, then that one person would be very, very grateful.

The third thing is that spending time with friends is the best. I don't think there's many greater joys in life than the time you get to spend with your pals, sort of working together on a shared journey. This is legit probably the closest your life gets to an anime, going through trials and tribulations and jumping from one interesting thing to the next. I find that my fondest memories were never that I chucked something cool into a word document and got repetitive strain injury of the hands, but things like getting a birthday cake at my friend's house in study group or crashing a different university's library with a different friend or singing in a choir. So much of the time, we sacrifice time for work, but you can trust me that the work is always there and it will always be infinite and a gigantic portion of it won't matter.

Presumably you're trying really hard because you want to be happy, but is taking a road trip or two with your friends in the context of a 40 or 50 year long career really going to make the make or break difference between getting into the specialty of your choice or not? I think we're decent at delaying gratification, but I just feel it's important to realise that you don't always need to have gotten over a particular hurdle to find happiness, and in fact many people achieve some super great overarching goal and find that their happiness is just...temporary. An ephemeral elation that's quickly superseded with an emptiness that the thing that they sacrificed so much to achieve was perhaps a neat title, and a certificate to do even more work.

So instead of delaying happiness, don't forget to focus on the happiness that is around you right now, because one won't be in medical school anymore, you won't necessarily be studying the same things as your friends and you may even drift apart from them not through anything deliberate but just because of the nature of physical proximity and distance.

Funnily enough, when I started typing out the stuff I wanted to say for this I was going to include more practical stuff like "don't bother typing swathes of notes because that's what textbooks literally are and someone else already said it better", but I guess I thought this kind of stuff was kind of important, because I'll tell you that there are many people that are way more senior than you that still haven't realized these things. I'm not prescribing you a desire for your life or anything, "more time with family and friends" is a politically correct answer that honestly doesn't actually apply to everyone because not everyone wants that even (when you search really deeply), but if you take one thing away from this...think hard about how truly happy would you be if you understood that the time you've got right now is significantly more limited than you think.

Just don't fall into the trap of waiting for happiness, because it's not something "that I'll feel later as soon as I finish this thing", because every challenge looks like that. You'll find that if you imagined the things that you cared about, disappearing tomorrow, there are actually a lot more things that make you happy than you know about.

I'm not really sure who will see this, but if you liked it, I'm glad and I hope you take care. See you later!