Well, today is the day… it is FINALLY the day. My 10 year journey of medical training finally ends. For the last time, I walk into a hospital as a trainee. No more rotating on and off someone else’s service. No more taking care of other doctors’ patients. From here on out, I start the fine art of practicing medicine on my own. Words can barely describe the emotions that I feel today. When I started my journey as naïve 22 year old with a full set of bushy, wavy hair, I essentially told myself to stop looking at the finish line because it wasn’t even a tangible goal at the time. I dreamed of what I wanted my finish line to look like, and I clung to those dreams as I put my head down and trudged along. I only focused on the next step, hoping that somehow each step would get me closer to the end. Today, as a 32 year old with much less hair, I finally take the last step. Wait- I need to repeat that because it seems so surreal… Today is the last step! 10 years seems so long yet so fast (but mostly so long!). I barely have the words to describe my emotions, so I thought I would just reflect back on the journey now that I have a bit more perspective.
Quite frankly, this journey almost never happened in the first place. I remember my first medical school interview at Vanderbilt University, but mostly because I didn’t want to be there. I was a stubborn 21 year old who only wanted to play baseball. I remember sitting at Ted Montana’s grill the night before the interview and telling my mom I didn’t want to go to medical school. I wanted to keep playing baseball even though my injured body made that nearly impossible. I’m still amazed to this day that my mom didn’t wring my neck. Here I am, interviewing at the top medical schools in the southeast with my whole medical future ahead of myself and all I wanted to do was play baseball.
I graduated college and still had no medical school acceptances until one medical school offered me a spot in early July. I said no. I still wanted to play baseball. I’ll never forget how flabbergasted the dean of students sounded. She probably never had an applicant flat out tell her no without being accepted elsewhere. “I hope you find what you’re looking for,” she said in a hurtful tone (like a girl breaking up with you kind of tone). I hung up and thought to myself, “Yeah me too…” I felt very low at that time. My parents were incredibly supportive, more so than I deserved. It had to be hard for my dad to know I could follow in his footsteps, but I was throwing it away for a game. Then one day Wake Forest called me about a month before classes started. This time it felt different. I knew I would say yes. And I did. I’ll never forget telling my dad that I accepted my spot in the Wake Forest School of Medicine Class of 2013. He floated over to me, his eyes lit up, and he gave me a huge hug. “Congratulations, Beams!! You’ll never regret this decision.” He was absolutely right. I haven’t regretted it for a single day.
I remember showing up to medical school and feeling like I didn’t belong. Everyone had lived their whole lives to become a doctor, and it was still my Plan B. I never went to pre-medical meetings. I didn’t volunteer at hospitals. I had minimal medical experience. All I knew is that I wanted to be a doctor like my dad. (It turns out that was all the experience I needed). Otherwise, I had no idea what to expect from medical school. I just figured I would show up and study whatever they were going to teach me. I was so clueless that the only disease I could offer up in my first workshop was “diabetes.” (The answer was bacterial meningitis… insert clueless shrug here). I remember talking to my first patient the second week of medical school. My patient interview mentors had only taught me two questions, “What brings you in today?” and “Can you tell me more about that?” They made it seem so easy… “Just keep asking open ended questions and the patient will keep talking. All you need to do is listen.” Let’s just say I didn’t find it so easy. I asked my patient what brought him in to the hospital, to which he responded “I’m sick,” and when I asked him if he could tell me more about that he simply said, “no.” So I thanked him for his time and walked out of the room with sweat pouring down my forehead. My first patient interview had lasted all of 3 seconds. I was mortified. My preceptors were trying their hardest to hold in their laughs. I would have died in laughter too (and now I do), but at the time I was horrified. It only made me feel like I didn’t belong that much more.
But I stuck with it, and a few months into medical school I remember walking out of the anatomy lab one evening when a sense of gratitude overcame me. It finally hit me that I was going to be a doctor and that the Lord had carved out this path for me all along. While a lot of my friends were still struggling to find a career pathway, mine was set. All of a sudden I wanted to be there. I felt like I could do it. I felt like I was finally following the Lord’s path for me.
Really there are too many memories to recount… I remember seeing my first cadaver. Taking my first test. The countless Friday and Saturday nights spent studying or doing research (and eventually doing it so much that it no longer seemed abnormal). My first day on wards as a medical student. Having impactful encounters with patients, and making eternity-long friendships. Grieving the loss of my father and somehow completing the journey without him. Graduating medical school. Being engaged, only to lose that engagement, and then only to have the Lord redeem it for the best marriage ever. Wearing my long white coat for the first time as an intern. I felt so out of place my first day, like when I snuck into my dad’s closet as a kid and tried on one of his suits. Making my first incision. Grinding through residency in what were the longest 5 years of my life. The amazing friends and church communities who lifted me up along the way (especially my friends from Calvary Baptist, Grace Community Church and Cornerstone). Interviewing for residencies and matching at UVA. Interviewing for fellowships and matching at HSS. Moving to NYC and arriving at midnight on a Saturday (I don’t necessarily recommend that in hindsight lol), thinking that if I can make it here then I can make it anywhere… and so many more memories…
In closing there’s one theme that really sticks out above them all. When people find out that I’ve been training to be an orthopaedic surgeon, they often ask how long that takes. “Ten years after college,” I always reply. They usually get wide eyed and make some remark about how ridiculously long that is. I usually make a comment to deflect the whole thing, and over time I usually found myself saying, “Yeah, I essentially gave up the prime decade of my life for spending my Friday and Saturday nights studying and being on-call, working over 100 hours a week and getting yelled at by my bosses.” This usually gets a chuckle or two and shuts down the conversation, which I actually appreciate because I don’t like drawing attention to myself. This saying of mine has been on my mind a lot lately. Did I really give up the best decade of my life? I think it depends on how you look at it. From a 30,000 foot view, the answer is probably yes. I sacrificed a lot to get where I’m at today. But through the view that matters… through the lens of Christ, it wasn’t really a sacrifice at all. It was a joy to pursue the calling the Lord has for my life. It was a delight to know that all of the blood, sweat and tears were being poured out to serve the Lord. It was no sacrifice at all to walk hand in hand with my Savior regardless of the path before me.
My mom always says, “Giving can only be measured by what you have left.” During these last 10 years I gave everything I had to my patients, my friends, my co-workers, and my family. I left nothing in the tank. Through the lens of Christ, this 10 year sacrifice was really no sacrifice at all. It was the best 10 year journey of my life. I can only hope that my next journey lives up to the one I’m ending now. Praise God from whom all blessings flow…