My Humble (and Grueling) Journey to Becoming a Physician
I graduated from Hamilton in 1997 with a double major in Biochemistry and Studio Arts/Ceramics. I took courses for Premed requirements, however during my senior year, I started to second-guess my initial decision to become a physician. Due to my choice in majors, I was not able to take a semester abroad like many of my friends. I was envious of their experience and how they returned with a different level of maturity and sense of independence. It seemed like such a daunting task, having to dedicate my life for at least more seven years of intense training and sacrifice in order to become a physician. I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to pursue this kind of career. Both my parents are doctors and that is all I knew growing up, watching them work hard and serve the needs of others. I felt I needed to try different things outside of the protective bubble of college and grow as a person first.
I traveled to the Philippines, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. At some point, I became SCUBA certified. I thought my art/science background would be of better use by becoming a pastry chef, the perfect marriage of art and science. So I moved to NYC and trained at the French Culinary Institute, now called the International Culinary Center, in SOHO. It was during that time, learning how to bake croissant, macaroons, making sculptures out of sugar and staging at restaurants that I realized my true calling was to become a physician. I returned to Florida, lived with my parents and worked full time in a restaurant in the pastry department, then at Mote Marine Laboratories while applying for medical school. While my grades from Hamilton were strong, my MCAT scores were not. I think it was my life experiences that eventually helped me get into medical school at the University of Miami.
What is it like to train and work as a physician? Up until now, it was all about getting into medical school, now you have to survive it. Medical school is not easy. It is intense, grueling and humbling. The amount of work you have to put into studying, with other students who are as smart and even smarter than you, has no comparison. You will be tired, both mentally and physically in ways that college has not prepared you for. You will not have time for family, vacations or recreational activities, so you have to choose one or two. Mine were baking and family. You will not sleep well and will pull an obscene amount of all-nighters. There are times you may feel you could break. And that is only in the first two years! Some people do not make it and drop out. You will take your step one of three USMLE boards, which will comprise of all the things you learned during this time.
In the third year, you have your clinical rotations in specialties like internal medicine, surgery, OB-GYN, psychiatry, and pediatrics, and you start to integrate all the stuff you crammed into your head as a first and second year into treating real people. Before this, it was all theoretical. You will also get to do procedures like suturing, giving injections, starting IV’s, drawing blood and delivering babies. As a fourth Year, you will take your step two boards, then start interviewing for your choice in residency programs, depending on the type of medical career you decide to pursue.
There is a lot of competition during this time and it is stressful because there is a fear of not matching into a medical residency program. Then there is “Match Day”, in March, where you find out what program you got into, which is a great time of celebration and sense of accomplishment because it is one step closer to becoming a physician. You will have a few weeks break between graduation and July 1st, which is the start of your residency program. Maybe then you can take an extended vacation. I was able to spend two weeks in Spain.
Congratulations! You are now a Doctor in training, you know things, but not enough to care for patients. You will take your step three boards. These next 3+ years, or in my case six years (four years general psychiatry and two year child psychiatry fellowship), is the time to fine-tune the art of being a physician. You are now responsible for patients in the hospital and in a clinical setting. You can prescribe medications and your patients will be looking to you for education and treatment. Here you will learn how to diagnose and care for your patients. You will deliver good news as well as comfort the patients and families when there is a tragedy. You will see death and you will save lives. You will have more independence, but there will always be an attending physician who will oversee your care, to ensure you are not endangering the patients you took an oath to protect.
Once you graduate from residency, you are now a “real doctor”. After you pass your specialty boards you will be formally certified as a physician. No more direct training, no senior physician to have to check in with. You are THE attending physician! You are now responsible for keeping up with the literature and learning for the sake of your own integrity and desire to be the best physician for your patient. It is both terrifying and empowering. There is nothing like this feeling. So your first day on the job, you should take a moment and be aware of it, let the reality of all you have accomplished sink in. You earned it … now it’s time to get to work!
Dr. Christine de Guia '97 is a board certified M.D. in both Child/Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry. She graduated with double majors in Biochemistry and Studio Arts/Ceramics.