This letter begins as fourth year winds down. In less than two months, the dream you had as a seventh grader will finally come true. You will become, at long last, an MD. Shortly after graduation, you will start an internal medicine residency at University Hospitals at Case Western Medical Center, and follow a special Leadership in Academic Medicine track. Congratulations for matching into your top choice and for finally becoming a doctor!
You were inspired to write this letter by one of Boonshoft's faculty, who told you to write it at the start of medical school. You thought that sounded cheesy and ignored his advice. Now, as you reflect on the changes you've made over the last four years, you understand why a letter like this is important. The first two years of medical school flew by in a daze of long hours, high stress, and little sleep. You entered third year burned out, exhausted, depressed, and uncertain of yourself. It's hard to feel connected to yourself when you're too busy to shower. In that process, though, you learned how to focus in the face of many distractions, realized your drive exceeded your own expectations, improved your average test scores almost 10%, and mastered complex material. Residency will likely be similar to those first two years of school, filled with hard work and little sleep, but this time I hope your experience will be more positive.
You will enter residency still shaking off the burn-out of medical school and (of course) terrified by the new responsibilities that await you. I expect that you will handle that fear and mental exhaustion well, and embrace those responsibilities with eager excitement and the commitment that medicine deserves. On the personal side, I hope you will dedicate time for self-exploration, for reading, for journaling about your impactful patients, for developing new relationships, and for fostering old ones.
I expect you to find time to connect with patients. Remember what you learned in medical school: patients are more than anonymous people in a hospital bed. They are other humans sharing the experience of living on this planet with you. They are in a dire time of need and stress when they are in your care, and they will likely remember the hospital visit they have for their entire lives. Being in the hospital is not a benign life event; rather, it is one people remember 50 years later. I trust you will take time to acknowledge that and respect your patients every single day. I also trust you will find new ways to empathize with your patients, because it is in that action that you will feel most fulfilled in this profession. I hope your patients will feel the love you had for each and every one of them, even when they are only concerned about their next dose of pain meds or when they are waking you up at 3am after you have had 2 days without sleep. I believe that you will deepen your respect for others, your open-mindedness, and your capacity for love, and in doing so find joy in your career that you can carry with you.
When it comes to academics, I know you will develop and improve your teaching skills. I see from where I stand that some of your most fulfilling experiences in medical school have been through tutoring and teaching your peers, and I am confident that will hold true through residency. Your students and your co-residents will benefit from the time you spend teaching them. Seize the chance whenever you see it to teach your students, to encourage rather than discourage, and to show that sometimes the book isn't where the learning occurs. You have the capacity to inspire others to truly care for patients, and I will be thrilled beyond measure when you help to develop empathy and perspective in your students.
All in all, future Claire, I do have big expectations for you. I have those expectations because you have worked so hard to get where you are now, and because you owe it to those who believed in you to continue to work hard. I also have those expectations because I understand your capabilities, and because you deserve to find fulfillment in this self-sacrificial, awe-inspiring field. Congratulations on your accomplishments thus far, and keep pushing for success.