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Stanford University School of Medicine

Don’t let the fire consume you: A letter to incoming medical students

Dear Future Med Students,

Congratulations on your acceptance to medical school! Wherever you're starting this fall, know that you're joining a “cult” of health care professionals and health care professionals-to-be. No matter how little you know, you'll be asked for medical advice. And the more you learn, the less likely you’ll be able to sit through an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” without picking out the make believe. We’re right there with you.

Medical school is a whirlwind: All the opportunities you’ll have, interests you’ll discover, and things you’ll need to learn may make you feel like you’ve been charged with keeping a forest fire at bay. Before you plunge, wide-eyed and naïve, into your new lives, here are three pieces of advice from someone who just finished her first year of med school and is now a little less naïve and, after figuring these things out, a whole lot happier.

1. Stay humble.

Being intelligent is a clear prerequisite for medical school, so you don’t need to boast about how smart you are. There is a time to talk of your accomplishments and be a bit proud of what you know, but that isn’t all the time.

Chances are, you will struggle with something during your first year. You’ll need help from your colleagues – don’t be afraid to admit it.

If you turn your med school experience into a contest, you’ll lose friends, come off as too arrogant to work with, and end up setting unattainable goals. It’s lonely at the top, especially if that’s a place you’ve falsely elevated yourself to.

2. Invest time in real friendships.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to get to know as many people as you can, but recognize real friendships when you're lucky enough to come by them. Understand the value in being around people who you can be yourself around, people who you can trust will be there for you when you need them. You may be exactly the same, totally different, or somewhere in between, but these people will bring out the best in you.

Spend time with these people when you find them, if you haven’t found them already. They’ll keep you sane, encourage you when you’re uncertain, and remind you that there’s more to life than passing exams. I owe so much to my friends who have talked for hours with me about anything and everything, played music for me til I fell asleep, and never turned down a middle-of-the-night donut run.

If all the things you’ll acquire during medical school were lined up, these friendships are what you’ll value most.

3. Remember your passions.

Anyone at our level of training who claims they’re passionate about medicine is clearly mistaken. How can someone be passionate about something they’ve barely scratched the surface of?

Remember the things you do just for the love of doing them, and don’t put them on the backburner in exchange for study guides and Anki decks. Forgetting about your passions in lieu of trying to pass every exam in the top one percentile will undoubtedly lead to burnout.

Do what makes you intrinsically happy, regardless of whether it will bolster your resumé or improve your network in some field. You don't need to bury your head in your books for countless hours every day of your first year to learn. Frankly, you will not learn everything. Spend time doing the things that make you you.


Starting med school and beginning the journey to becoming a physician is akin to knowingly jumping into that forest fire with the hopes of saving others one day. You’ve embarked on a truly noble journey. Go headfirst into the fire, but don’t let it consume you.


A newly minted MS2

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Natasha Abadilla was born and raised in Hawaii, graduated from Stanford undergrad in 2014, and spent two years doing public health work in Kenya before returning to the Farm for med school. She just finished her first year of medical school, and she enjoys writing, cooking, eating desserts, running, and scrubbing into the OR. 

Photo by Shutterstock

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