Your patients want to know that you care, or else they won’t care what you know.
– Our graduation banquet speaker
The first day and the last day of my medical school career captured the essence of my journey the past four years. Day one found thirty-five of us fresh-eyed, new medical students at our regional campus in Bloomington, IN scrambling to find our white coats to take our class picture. We were worried about being over-dressed, under-dressed, or just…dressed. We had no idea the challenges and long hours that lay ahead. I was scared, terrified, trying to control my bowel functions, and making friends with all of the people I would be spending the next two years with. I was among strangers (although not for long).
The last day found me sitting among my future colleagues in surgery, wrapping up our month of a surgical intern preparatory course. These were the future surgeons that I will forever have a bond with. The world of surgery is a special group, even within the select group of physicians. There is an unspoken understanding between me and any other student I met who is going into surgery. We laughed, smiled, and reveled in our achievement and our last day of this incredible, monumental journey. Here, I was among my friends and colleagues.
It has been both a long and short journey, with my white coat ceremony seeming like it was yesterday. That same coat now sits on a peg in my room, seeing blood, sweat, tears, a copious amount of pasta sauce, and an even larger amount of bleach. The letters have faded from red to a dull orange (mostly from my terrible bleaching routine used to cleanse said pasta sauce stain), and has an inner pocket held together by suture. Now, my cap and gown is hung in my closet, awaiting graduation tomorrow.
This is the last day of my life that I won’t be a doctor. It’s surreal to think that tomorrow I’ll be Brandon Wojcik, M.D. Those two letters will follow me to my grave. At the funeral of my friend’s father, who was a physician, they referred to him as “Doctor” throughout the sermon, which drove the point home that being a physician is a special privilege and a great honor. It will follow me even when I leave the operating room, leave the clinic, and hang my white coat on the peg before heading home. My M.D. won’t stay on that peg. It will follow me until the day I die and beyond.
“Dr. Wojcik” is a phrase that still shocks me to see, and the first letter I got from my residency program with that salutation made my heart flutter. I’m not sure when it will feel normal to see or hear that, but I imagine it will take awhile.
Having spent the past four years with somewhere near 350 future physicians in my medical school class, becoming a doctor hasn’t seemed that special. When we were in the hospitals, we were the lowest on the totem pole, and it is easy to see how we won’t really have “made it” until we are at the top of the food chain as attending physicians. It’s easy for this to not feel special, since a large amount of our friends will be doctors too. However, let’s take a look at the numbers:
As of 2014, there were 265.5 active physicians per 100,000 population, which in 2014 was around 320 million. Therefore, there were approximately 850,000 active physicians then. We can assume there’s been some growth, but that still leaves the percentage of physicians in the U.S. as around 0.27% of the population.
Numerically, we are part of a very, very select group with a medical degree. Despite things I’ve read about the profession of physician being viewed as not as prestigious as it once was, being a doctor is still a special thing. We walk into a patient’s room to make them trust us, tell us their most intimate life details, and develop a plan to help them feel better, often all within a matter of 15 minutes or less. That is a monumental responsibility, one that our long and arduous training has afforded us the ability to do. We have punched our ticket into an elite portion of society, and that is something we should accept with both joy and a great sense of responsibility.
I’ll be frank, while I am scared about it, it is incredible and pretty freaking awesome to become a doctor. People I don’t know will refer to me as “Doctor Wojcik”. That’s crazy! People who have no idea who I am will know me by that title even before knowing anything else about me. That’s mind-blowing! It is impressive to hear that someone is a doctor, and that title conveys an immediate sense of prestige and respect from those outside of the medical field. That is something I’m reminded of when I spend time with people outside of the medical bubble. Let’s be real, that’s not something all of us do that often. It’s pretty nice to be reminded that being a physician is something to treasure.
We’re pretty special, there’s no getting around that. We have earned the chance to celebrate all of our achievements, like we did at our graduation banquet tonight. I’m going to be beaming from ear to ear at graduation tomorrow. Oh, and probably cry a little bit. Or a lotta bit. That remains to be seen. Like…holy crap I’m going to be a doctor tomorrow, and continue my journey to being a surgeon.
While this is no time to be conceited or pompous, we should be proud, Class of 2017. Especially to my Bloomington and surgery classmates, we have fought, despaired, cried, rejoiced, and celebrated together. We have made it through arguably the biggest challenge of our lives, and it is something to be proud of. We made it as a team, as the next generation of physicians to take up the noble torch of practicing medicine. I have nothing but love for my Indiana University classmates, as well as those graduating across the United States and the world. I am honored to be among you and call you my colleagues.
Let’s be the best physicians that the world has ever seen, making medicine better every day, and caring for our patients in ways that will make our profession proud. Now I should probably attempt to sleep, although that’ll be hard with all the excitement for tomorrow. Goodnight, all you future physicians. For tomorrow, we will be doctors. And we should be proud.
For this occasion, I present Congratulations by Post Malone. Let’s go party, Class of 2017!