The in-class assignment was simple: write a short paragraph of your thoughts about narrative medicine. But after ten minutes, my paper was a mess; pen lines angrily crossed out sentences that had been started but not finished, my usually neat penmanship was messy, my vocab unsure. My writing screamed hesitation. After begrudgingly turning in my assignment, I realized just how long it had been since I had written in my journal, which I had left tucked away in a nightstand in my childhood bedroom. I thought it was an appropriate place to leave the book—covered in cheesy flowers with a creased binding—that had chronicled my high school and college years. As I was packing for medical school, it seemed almost off-putting at the time to continue to chronicle the next chapter of my life—what I naively perceived to be the real challenges of medical school—on the same page as my previous entry, in which I complained about the trials and tribulations of learning how to drive stick shift and tackling organic chemistry. Instead, tucked away in my new bedroom, is a leather-bound journal, a gift I received for medical school, emblazoned with the words “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS.” Every inch of it is covered in cartoon birds. It has been sitting in a drawer since I moved in, untouched.
As I juggle this new chapter as a busy first year med student, that seemingly simple assignment reminds me how much I miss, and clearly need, a nightly journaling routine as my outlet to find peace with my hurried thoughts at the end of a hectic day. It is all too easy to fall into the daily hustle and bustle of med school life such that every day seems almost like the one before. Study, extracurriculars, preceptorship, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. All too often, before I fall asleep, I find myself falling into the trap of using my phone to mindlessly relax; catching up on my Facebook newsfeed, scrolling through photos on Instagram—or, if we’re being totally honest here—catching up on celebrity gossip (let’s just say, I’ve definitely been keeping up with the Kardashians). But by the time I “unplug,” my brain is often wired. So much for unwinding.
Yet, even as I write this entry (yes, write, not type!), I understand how relaxing it is to unwind and take the time to process the day’s events with the written word. To really chronicle how every day is not like the one before, but how each day actually brings a new perspective as a result of what I had done that day: conversing with a new classmate, grasping the latest material in class, practicing the hands-on skills I’ve obtained in my preceptorship, etc. I see how important writing about these experiences is for me; to have something tangible to look back upon, years after medical school. To read through each chapter—to remember how I had stumbled when learning to measure blood pressure and take a patient history—just as I reflect now when I read back on my teenage struggles.
It’s important that we, as future physicians, find whatever it is that provides us with this sense of mindfulness, whether it be exercise, meditation, spirituality, etc., and hold on to it. It is through this self-awareness that we can see not only how we have changed, but even more importantly, to find a moment’s peace in the midst of the commotion that each day brings as we pursue careers in medicine.
So, when I go back to my childhood home to visit my family, I’ll be sure to pack up my journal.
12.2.2010 <homework> 321/365 by Phil Roeder