The third year mindset

One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.  Bertrand Russell

As a new third year student, I spend a lot of time trying to embrace two contradictory ideas. On the one hand, I have to tackle the impostor syndrome every time I walk into a patient’s room. They know I’m not a doctor (because, of course, I tell them so and because I am very conscious about correcting folks who call me “Dr. Thirstyscholar”). Everyone around me, even (especially?) the medical assistants and nurses aides, knows their role so much better than I do. Even many of my fellow students seem to be so much more competent than I do. Worse, still, I know all of the questions I didn’t ask a patient and all of the ways my write up could have been better. So how can I (how dare I?) pry into patients lives and bodies, fully knowing that I’m not the best person for the job? To combat this feeling, I try to stay immersed in my work and to give myself small positive thoughts whenever I do something right.

On the other hand, I have to check my ego at the door every day that I show up for work. I truly am the least experienced (and, often, least valuable) member of our outpatient medicine team and I have to be conscious of that fact. I’m only a guest in the practice that I am working in this month – come August 1, I will leave and the staff and physicians will stay behind. I endeavor to treat everyone from the front desk staff to the senior physicians with respect and to take nothing for granted. Every time someone takes time out of their day to teach me I thank them for it, whether they are showing me where the stapler is or how to read a chest x-ray. I’m sure I’m not perfect at this – but I sure try damn hard to be.

So, most of my inward-directed thoughts are spent on monitoring my oscillation between these two mindsets. It would be much easier to just let the pendulum swing to one side or the other. I hope that I’m getting the balance right – and so far all the feedback has been positive – but I definitely don’t feel like I’ve got it down yet. It’s a peculiar and particular mindset, and it’s full of opportunities to fall into chasms of self doubt. So far so good, though.

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