So if your medical school is anything like mine, there will be a constant buzz in the air about what to do during the summers and breaks. Who's researching what? and when? and where?! What paper have you gotten published?!!! HAVE YOU SHADOWED DR. AWESOME?! LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION! AHHH! It's like the big, hairy, scary behemoth in the room. Everyone is trying to figure out what everyone else is doing so they can properly gauge just how much overacheivment is necessary during their time off. Well, I've got an idea that I probably shouldn't share because then my secret will be out. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
The concept is pretty straightforward. If everyone in the room is wearing a red sweater because they think that's what you have to do to get into the party, how much do you think you will stand out if you don the red sweater as well? Now let's say that your favorite color is blue and you decide that you don't care that everyone says you're supposed to wear the red sweater, you're jolly well gonna wear the blue one and show up to the party anyway. Do you think you'll stand out?
Sometimes it seems like medical students want so badly to stand out, but at the same time they have this crazy (and somewhat legitimate) fear they won't check all the right boxes.
Cut to my life. Travel is my passion. I never feel more focused, fulfilled, or alive than when I am boarding a train or listening to the pilot welcome me aboard. Travel feels like home to me. Because of this passion I have, I travel every chance I get.
When it came to the end of college I had received my acceptance to medical school, but I was planning on deferring for a year. All the options for deferment I had considered weren't quite what I was looking for, and then a friend casually mentioned a trip he was planning... and what a trip it was. Take a world map and make the center of it the pacific ocean. Then draw a point at the southernmost tip of South America and another at the southwesternmost point in Africa. Then connect them using the longest overland route possible. This gives you some idea of the scope of this trip.
This idea lit me on fire and I could think of little else. I finally knew what it was like to be passionate about what I was doing and it was glorious. I was researching, building a website, looking at the possible routes and where the difficulties would lie. Hours would fly by researching this or that detail of travel and I would barely notice. This was far from my mindset throughout most of my college experience. I was fully engaged in what I was doing and loving every minute of it.
Then came the day to shove off into the grey mist of the unknown and board that plane bound for Patagonia. My friend and I had a rudimentary route worked out and enough money saved to last for a year of ultra-bootstrapped travel (we hoped). Then we started traveling and I realized that I wish I was doing research... just kidding. The year was, I can say without hesitation or reservation, the most interesting and mind expanding year of my life.
I visited 42 countries on 5 continents. I had the opportunity to meet some of the most intensly interesting people on this planet and make friendships with people the world over. I was honored to be able to take in the sites, sounds, smells, and cultures of a great many places, if even for only a few fleeting days. I rode on trains, buses, cars, motorcycles, planes, goat trucks, subways, scooters, bicycles, and just about every other mode of transportation you could envision, in pretty much every condition imaginable. I even had the good fortune to volunteer my time and work with some amazing Doctors at some amazing mission hospitals. It was not always easy or comfortable, but it was an education like no classroom, laboratory, or online course could have given me. And we made it. We traveled from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good hope the long way around. If you care to read about the trip our blog is www.thewholeworldround.com.
I say all that not to brag or gloat, but mearly to point out that you CAN leverage your passion to your benefit and to the amazement of others... DURING MED SCHOOL. I'm trying to be real here. How many conversations do you think I've had about my trip since I got back? Do you think many medical students did a trip like that last year? Do you think this sets me apart and allows me to have conversations with people I would not normally be able to engage? Innovative people, passionate people and leaders are drawn to other people who have those same qualities.
Okay that's great, so what's the point?
When you are thinking about what to do with your upcoming break, don't just think about which box you can check off on the list of things to do in medical school. Draw your own box, man! Find a way to leverage your passion into a life experience that you can grow from. If that's travel, GO TRAVEL. If you're a passionate knitter of hats, DO THAT (then give them away to kids who are bald from chemo). If it's research, by all means research till your blue in the face! Volunteer in a hospital or research WHILE you travel (abroad programs). Be innovative with it, be creative, but most importantly... do it. If you are in love with what you are doing, it will show through to the people that matter. Cliche yes, but no less true. Remember... the blue sweater. Wear it! Love it! Stand out.