First day of so much: Walking from my new apartment to school. Meeting all my future classmates. Wearing my snazzy ID. Feeling important in a whole new way. Sitting in these lecture halls. Breaking for lunch. Passing under the L on my way home. Cooking dinner after school. Relaxing in front of the TV. Prepping to do it all over again tomorrow.
Ah, the excited winds of change!
Looking back now, the medical school application process and Peace Corps have a lot of similarities. Perhaps too many. The most stark of which is the fact that no one outside the process really seems to understand the brevity of what you went through. The stress and effort involved to beat odds that are heavily stacked against your favour is exhausting and consuming. Explaining the experience to my parents, friends, colleagues still makes me cringe. A 4% chance of being interviewed. A 1.4% chance of getting accepted. Alas!!!
Numbers are illustrative, but never enough. So are my words about Peace Corps. To explain the aspects that stuck with me and shaped who I am is utterly, conventionally impossible. However, I am not alone in that experience or this one. Somedays, I may need to remind myself of that.
Another similarity between Peace Corps and medical school is in the initial preconceptions that people have about you when they discover what you’ve done or are about to do. At its most general, when people hear about my Peace Corps service, they typically assume that I am a kind-hearted, worldly person. They don’t assume that I know what it means to say no to a begging child. They don’t assume that I have pushed others out of the way to get on a crowded bus. They don’t assume that I’ve watched passively as my students were beaten repeatedly with sticks by their teachers. Sure, they can imagine that I’ve had some challenging or difficult experiences. Yet, I doubt they would be able to picture me acting in a way they would interpret as counteractive or downright heartless if they saw it in the States.
And so it goes for medical school. People assume that you are altruistic and intelligent. They don’t assume that I get impatient with my family when they say ignorant things. They don’t assume my level of disdain for the country I was born with its abounding superficiality and discrimination. They don’t assume my skepticism every time I hear someone’s story or listen to them complain. Which makes me feels slightly more guilty when I do.
Out of context, without knowing or understanding me, these characteristics seem harsh and unwarranted. And I would guess that most people would assume that I’m not that person. Conceited, perhaps, or too-driven, they might guess, but impatient and skeptical are probably their later assumptions. To be stereotyped as a kind, worldly person is certainly not the most horrid of assumptions, and many would probably scold me for feeling unhappy about being positively judged. But, assumptions are assumptions, and they all get tiring because, good or bad, there is always an expectation accompanying it.
In practice, however, I can take this knowledge of judgement and bias and use it to my advantage. I am going to walk into nearly every patient room and make at least some assumptions about who I am looking at. Remembering how I feel when judged, I can reflect back to them at least some level of what I hope to receive from others.