On Finishing “Medical School”

Today was my last day of “med school,” in the unique Harvard sense that I’m done taking medical classes and now move toward 2 years of clinical dentistry! There’s not much room for the luxury of resolution or reflection, but here’s my best attempt.

We Are Arriving At…
One of my favorite parts of riding the subway, especially in Asia, is the announcement of what stop you’re arriving at. The announcement on the T in Boston is not that exciting, but in Shanghai and Seoul the pre-recorded voice is very warm, clear, and in the case of Seoul accompanied by a super catchy jingle!

Only the first play is the real version. The rest is…sort of remixed. But the point of this apparent digression is that I feel like I and 35 of my dental classmates have arrived at our stop after riding a train with our 130 MD-bound classmates for almost 2 years now. We’ve gotten close, shared a lot of experiences, learned a lot of medicine together, and now we’re changing lines to get on our own train. And it’s sad to see them go, especially because knowing their map, I know they’re all splitting into different lines soon enough too.

So now, we hear the voice. “We are arriving at…” dental school, with all its excitements and its unknowns.

Specializing, subspecializing, subsubsubspecializing
Seems like most people at Harvard are an Expert at some thing or another, whether broad swaths like Health Care Policy In General or seemingly infinitesimal slivers like ParaThyroid-Hormone-related Peptide, which our professors and classmates slowly show us are actually entire universes condensed into a single acronym. This is kind of baffling to me, knowing that many so-called leaders also test as highly Myers-Briggs “N,” meaning tending to love the big picture and not these specific details.

And yet, everyone seems to get cornered by the force of academic competition and the sheer breadth of Knowable Things and the sheer un-breadth of our limited brains into expertise that only seems to specialize further the more your career moves long. Leaving medical school marks in a much more final way a step of specialization–something that even my MD classmates treat with trepidation, that day of reckoning when you limit your career to a single residency path that will funnel the rest of your life in one direction to the exclusion of all the others.

The Universe
And yet to my dismay, I find that even in this seemingly small universe called dentistry there are far too many doors for me to walk through and I too must get off this train in pursuit of my own route. Except that these routes seem to only come once or twice a lifetime, so once you get on one bus, there’s only a limited amount of going back.

So what will it be? Interprofessional education? A private practice empire? Insurance and financing? Global health? Community health? Etc./unknown?

One thing I’ve come to recognize, especially in my facebook-fasted state, that I really crave connection with the outside world, and whatever my career or career(s) end up being, I need to feel enmeshed in the Cultureverse outside my own desk or operatory. What does this look like! I don’t know. In the words of the super creepy Mal from Inception, I am waiting for a train. I know where I hope it will take me, but I can’t be sure.

Yet it doesn’t matter.

Or at least, I’m strangely peaceful about the uncertainty of it all and content to see what God’s got in store for me. Hurrah for getting the MD part of the DMD! Hope I still remember some of it in 20 years, but even if not it’s been a heck of a privilege to tour the human body with some really awesome people these last 2 years.

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