Emotional Baggage · Medical School

Master’s Counts for Something

This is my 12th year of university.  Gross.  I think about that and I get a little depressed.  12 years and 4 degrees.  I guess that’s not too bad: I’m averaging 3 years per degree.

You think I wouldn’t complain about having all this education.  I do, however, because I feel that in my current degree (MD) I am so much further behind my peers.  I look at some of my classmates and they are 4, 5, 6, even 7 years younger than me.  I think about how much further ahead of me they will be in their lives.  I think about some of the residents I work with and how they are younger than me.  I think about some of my mentors, like K: she graduated medical school 12 years ago, yet she’s only 7 years older than me.  That puts her 5 years ahead of me in the “life plan.”  Just in case it’s not glaringly obvious: I often get down on myself for being so far behind in my life.

This past weekend I wrote all my personal letters for my residency applications.  In one section of some of the letters, I commented on the research I did throughout med school.  I then segued into my research background:

… I have a strong background in basic research that I developed during the completion of my Master’s of Science degree.  My thesis involved …  While I eventually decided that I didn’t want to continue a career in basic science research, I am excited to apply the skills I acquired previously to a field of medicine that I am passionate about.

Today I was re-reading my letters and I thought about how very few of my classmates can say anything to this effect.  I worked hard on that Master’s degree.  I learned so much, I have an experience that many people in my position don’t have.  K doesn’t have a Master’s degree; Most people I know don’t have a Master’s degree.  It’s got to count for something, right?

As I thought about this today, I realized that maybe I don’t give myself enough credit for the things I have accomplished in my life.  So I made a career change… That is the reason I am “behind.”  I have experienced something that has bettered me and made me an interesting person.  I have skills and knowledge that set me apart from other people; things that probably make other people look at me and think “wow, that’s pretty awesome” (or impressive, or some other worthy adjective).  I need to remember this more often and I need to be confident in what I have done up to this point in my life.

I have to stop saying that I’m behind.  I’m not behind.  I have taken a different path to get here and it has made me who I am.  I need to not be ashamed of the “lowly level” I am at in my medical training and focus instead on all the parts that make up me, as a whole.  I am an amazing, hard working, skilled individual who has so much to offer.  I just happen to be in medical school now and I haven’t learned everything that other people who are further ahead of me have.  That doesn’t make me a bad person, or a person worth less than the other people around me.  I just doesn’t.

And just to add a little more “oomph” to my argument here, I also have an English degree.  How many people can say they have a science degree and an arts degree?  That’s pretty cool, I think (maybe I’m biased). In fact, I asked some people to read my letters and give me their opinion: I had more than one person say something to the effect of, “I don’t think I can offer any critique to the person with the English degree.”  Again, like the Master’s degree, I seem to forget that I have acquired something in the time that “put me behind” in life.  And this something makes me a more interesting person.

It all counts for something and I need to take more pride in all of that.

10 thoughts on “Master’s Counts for Something

  1. You’re not behind! You’re right in thinking that everyone’s path is different. I got into medical school at 21, and I feel like I’m behind my peers because I’m still single at 24. I think we’re just all too hard on ourselves 🙂

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  2. I’m in my 10th year of University and have yet to complete even one actual degree. Since I’m averaging zero degrees every decade, your one degree per three years looks pretty stellar to me!! But, I understand well how it feels to think that you are far behind where you ‘should’ be in life. I’m trying to learn how to give myself a break on being ‘behind’ because Life threw a few insane curve-balls that I hadn’t planned on when I first planned it all out 😉 Sounds like you are not only catching the curve balls but making some home runs too! You deserve to be PROUD of where you are at today!!

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  3. Really enjoyed this post and loved this line in particular – ‘I seem to forget that I have acquired something in the time that “put me behind” in life’. It’s a statement that can be applied to the experience of so many people who take a different path. Like you say, paths have value, not just their destinations. Though I’ll admit it’s not always easy to remember it doesn’t make it any less true. So thanks for reminding me.

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    1. It’s funny that you pointed out that line again. I have still been thinking about this post and the point behind it since I wrote it. It still seems so shocking to me, and even with you pointing out that line, I can’ believe I actually wrote that! It seems like something with much more expertise would have written… not me.

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  4. I don’t know how old you are but you are not behind anyone. I, too, completed a MSc degree before medical school, so I was one of the “older” students in my class, but those extra two years of graduate studies gave me an advantage. I was far better at the self-directed learning. I had more “school” experience than most of my colleagues, but we all ended up the same, with an MD behind our name. Now 10 years later (!!!) we’ve all, in one way or another, “caught up” to each other.

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    1. Thanks for the reminder. I had a little pow-wow this morning with KM (about what I blogged about yesterday) and she said, very convincingly, that she doesn’t view me any differently than she does anyone else just because I am a student. The context was completely unrelated, but at least it reinforced the fact that in this game of life, we are all just people.
      BTW, I celebrated a rather depressing milestone birthday earlier this year…

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  5. I feel the same way as I am just about to start med school 4 years after college. I am finishing up my PhD, which is a huge accomplishment, yet I can’t help but wonder how much I will be behind in life in other aspects because I have stayed in school longer.

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