Med school. It’s the path I chose over engineering, business, law, journalism, and even being a pilot. Why medicine? Well. I really don’t have a good answer for you. I can give you the cliché answer of serving the community. In reality, one day I got a C in a basic engineering class, called my dad, and told him I wasn’t going to follow his footsteps. He asked me what I wanted to do nervously, and I said…um be a doctor instead. That’s it. I entered a realm I had no business being in at the time. By the grace of God, it was the best most impromptu decision I ever made looking back now. Now I can say that with confidence but that was not always the case. Close your eyes and picture a faint light at the end a deep tunnel. That’s where we’ll begin.
I grew up in Canton, MI. Had plenty of friends and family around me. But med school was different. It was hard, not only starting an intensive program, but to move hours away from my home, family, and friends to living alone in a small rural town in West Virginia. I mean, it was a really small town. Everything closed at 5pm, closed on Sundays and Mondays (seriously how do they make any money??), and there wasn’t much to do. The people I had around me for most of my life were no longer there. I had to do it alone. Yeah, there’s Facetime, Skype, texts, etc. but nothing is an equal substitute with real face-to-face time. And you can’t just start the car, drive over, and see everyone like I could when I lived in Canton…home was 7.5-8 hours away. I was told to suffer now and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.
Eventually, I adjusted. Made new friends, figured my way around town, and got comfortable with the Southern hospitality. But my God was school ruthless. The material for the most part wasn’t difficult. It was the volume, and the quick turnaround. Study study study study study, take an exam….then study again. But I got through first year. The light? I don’t know, it looks pretty far right now.
The most famous medical school analogy is “drinking water from a fire hose” and while that was kinda true, it felt more like “have someone punch you in the stomach, get up, get punched again”. The fact of the matter is, med school has tired me out, exhausted me, burned me, and stressed me out, and I’m hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Social media was a shell of my med school life. I shared my white coat ceremony, the campus, my friends, and the events that happened often at our school. But I didn’t share the days of isolation in a library, numerous anatomy dissections alone, or the worst…3-4 hour exams over and over and over again. Exam questions were stories, the answer choices were sentences long, and the wait for the results were excruciating. One time a couple of classmates and I decided to check our heart rate and blood pressures just as the email notification that our exams scores were up. Heart rates in the 120-130s, blood pressures in the 140-150s, faces pale, breaths held…it was a never-ending cycle. Exhausted, burned, and stressed. That light at the end of the tunnel was looking bleak.
Second year brings a whole new set of challenges with Step 1 of our licensing boards on deck. The course work was more intense, and time off was few and far between. That’s when something weird started happening to me. I was in class and suddenly I got this extreme dizziness that I couldn’t shake off. Not for a week or two…but 3 weeks of constant dizziness and nausea. Ok, that’s alarming. Let’s make things worse; in school we were finishing up Neurology, and the diseases of the brain. Oh crap…do I have a brain tumor? Do I have meningitis? Etc. Etc. So I went to the doctor (ironically, I absolutely HATE going to the doctor) and they didn’t seem too concerned, probably dehydration or an ear infection. Long story short, I woke up one day and it was completely gone. As if the past three weeks were a lie. I was so happy, I could focus on school again, and didn’t think I was dying. So what happened to me exactly? I don’t know. But I am 99.9% sure it was stress related, and to think this might happen again is frightening. That light though? Non-existent.
You can’t talk about second year without mentioning Step 1 and Level 1. I’ll keep this part short. It sucked. You got to pass it though to continue on, but it was the most God awful 4 months of my life. It was nice out, it was Ramadan, I was back home. But I couldn’t do anything. I was stuck. I missed weddings, gatherings, trips, sleep, and friends. Second year is when it hit me, I was losing…friends. Wait but how do you lose friends to school? For some people, once I wasn’t around them, it’s as if I never existed to them. No more invites or phone calls. No more communication. But wait Khaled, friendship is a two-way street, and of course you’re right… but I got the cold shoulder way too many times after trying. When you’re gone for months to years, you get this sense everything is the same as you left it. It’s not, people move on, lives go separate ways, the world moves on without you. I didn’t grasp that at first, and it took a while to fully comprehend it. That’s fine. I needed to learn who my real friends were. I lost countless friends to distance, but the friends I have today, I wouldn’t change for anything. These friends bring light and warmth to my dark tunnel.
Today, I’m a third year medical student. Halfway done with third year actually. It’s gotten more real to say the least. One day, God willing, someone will look to me to make them feel better, to go home to their spouse, children, or friends. But right now, I’m in that “safe zone” where I can double check with someone more experienced than me, making sure I don’t kill someone…yikes. One day when I graduate, that safety net will be gone, the training wheels will come off, and that light that I desperately sought for… maybe was shining too bright. Did I only care about getting out, and not spend the time learning? Time will tell, but right here, right now, I can only learn and grow as a medical student. I don’t want to get to my dream, and look back, having second thoughts, due to my lack of preparation. Today, that’s what keeps me going. If I’m in here, I might as well make the most of it. It’s more than just getting a title and some letters after my name.
I’ve been called “doctor”, I’ve been told I’m marriage material, I’ve been theorized I’ll be “ballin” out soon, but in reality, none of that matters right now. Nothing is guaranteed in life. What I can guarantee myself is my commitment to be the first doctor from both sides of my family. I will commit to working hard and learning every day. It wasn’t too long ago I failed basic health in middle school, and that’s a reminder that the only difference then and today was my dedication, and commitment. In the meantime, I’m not a doctor (still), I’m (very) poor, and not married (lol).
Medicine is all about your “firsts”. First day of classes, first human body dissection, first exam, first standardized patient, first murmur heard, first full physical, first day of rotation, first patient seen alone, first medical judgement mistake, first code, first death, first day of residency, first day as an attending. As the experiences pile up, so do the responsibilities, but so does the satisfaction of knowing I was able to help someone in need — and that’s where the light starts shining. I can see the end. I can see the promise. I feel comfortable where I’m at and where I want to head to next. I want to be an internal medicine doctor that looks back and is proud of my impromptu decision-making skills. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and became someone I didn’t think was possible. By no means have I cleared this tunnel, but the light is there, I’m just about there. And what is exciting about that light, is I know its just another new beginning. – Khaled
Khaled Almadhoun is a 3rd year medical student at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. An alum of Salem High School and Wayne State University, Khaled has spent most of his life in the Metro Detroit area. His number one passion is helping pre-med and medical students tackle the stress of their careers. He would be happy to answer your questions through email: email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram: @khaledalmadhoun92