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The medical student’s identity crisis

In this Stanford Medicine Unplugged piece, second-year medical student Natasha Abadilla reflects on how medical school can delay many aspects of adulthood, such as career and family.

Recently, I had the honor of standing by one of my childhood best friends as she promised the love of her life that she’d stand by him forever. The wedding was beautiful, and at the reception, I played with another close friend’s 3-year-old daughter and talked with other friends about their work promotions and apartment searches. All I have to contribute to these conversations are anecdotes about med school and complaints about upcoming exams.

I quickly realized how “adult” my friends have all become. Many of my friends are already comfortable in their careers, own fancy cars, and have the time to spend with significant others who they have settled down with. They’re saving money for their next vacation, getting married, having children, already building their dream lives.

As a medical student, I’ve subscribed to an identity crisis: I’m old enough to already have a full life, complete with an established career and my own family, but I’ve given that up for medicine.

I feel fortunate that I have many non-med or grad school friends living nearby who I still see often. These friendships never fail to remind me, though, of how I’ve chosen a path that is so different than they did. They host cozy dinner parties at their homes, and conversations over drinks don’t involve board exam questions or clinical rotation schedules.

In contrast, the path towards becoming an M.D. is the epitome of delayed gratification. Medical school is the ultimate “marshmallow test.”

My med school classmates sometimes venture to dream about the lives they’ll live after we’re through with the strange, trying experience that is medical school and residency. It is in these dreams that our current identity crises really make themselves known. Some talk about how they’ll be able to spend more time with their significant others and start a family. Others speak with stars in their eyes about all the health field-changing research they’ll conduct and life-saving policies they’ll pass. Many wax poetic about taking some time to travel the world, read books, write songs, climb mountains, and cross things off their bucket lists.

As for me? One day, I’d like to wake up in the arms of someone I love, gingerly step over toys and try not to wake up our babies or dogs on my way out the door to the hospital. I’d like to sneak out in the middle of the afternoon to hear my son plunk away at a concert piano or watch my daughter score the winning goal. I’d like to feel exhausted, excited, overwhelmed, and inspired by my patients’ stories and honored to be their doctor, but also know that being their doctor is not my only identity in the world. I’d like to be a physician, a mother, a wife, a trusted friend.

But not now. Now, I am still a student whose friends are inching closer to “real adult life” while I feel stuck in limbo here at my desk, trying to climb a seemingly insurmountable mountain of knowledge before my Step 1 exam date and taking study breaks to daydream about a time when my identity crisis won’t be a thorn in my side anymore. I’m not worried though. I think I’ll get there.

Years from now, I’ll finally be living in a world where I’ll have a house full of laughter and music, a family that makes me wonder how I got so lucky, and a career so rewarding that all the flash cards and practice exams will feel worth it.

Photo by Picsea

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 started her second year of medical school, and she enjoys writing, cooking, eating desserts, running, and scrubbing into the OR. 

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