Four years ago last May, I was accepted into Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. As I tell the story today, it was a surprise, and I anguished over my decision. After all, I’d just gotten a History degree, and I’d applied almost for fun. I wanted to do a Masters! Of course, that isn’t the whole truth: I’d done nearly a year of pre-requisite classes, and written the admissions exam. And as my journal from the time attests, I spent only short two days deciding if I was going to go through with it. While I still intend to study History, here I am four years later with a piece of paper on my wall.
To plagiarise an old joke, it bestows upon me the two most expensive letters I own: M.D. It cost me not only tuition, textbook purchases, and equipment costs, but also four years of my life (with two more yet), weeks of anxiety, and on bad days even my sense of who exactly I’m supposed to be.
Judging by the faces of those around me as I prepared to walk across the stage a week ago, it was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life. I’d worked hard to earn one of the most prestigious degrees our university offers! I was now somehow improved as a person! Instead, I felt a little let down—this was it? After the president of the university handed me my degree with a jocular “Dr. Fowler, I presume?” it suddenly felt like Christmas afternoon, but without the toys to keep my mind off the fact that really, this was it. No opening sky, no blasting trumpets, just an envelope and the first time someone had—in truth—called me “doctor.”
I couldn’t be the only one who felt this way, could I? But even as the master of ceremonies for the banquet, I saw only elation in the eyes of my classmates, now colleagues. I felt left out as group after group got together for photos of them with their friends on the momentous occasion. Already, I know what I’m actually going to remember: putting on my convocation hood for a goofy photograph, the adorable little girl who was ecstatic to meet the MC, and the lingering sense that I had missed a memo from on high.
To me, this was an arbitrary step in the marathon that is medical training. I didn’t know anything more than I did the day before, and I’m certainly not any more confident. Maybe I’m not alone, but in some ways I hope I am. I hope the import of our graduation moves others more than me, moves them to feel ready to take on the world. Because right now, I feel awfully small.