Remember when we thought that a two-week shutdown in March of 2020 would be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic? Somehow “two weeks” turned into “maybe by Easter,” which turned into “maybe by Memorial Day,” which then turned into just about every birthday and holiday you could think of in 2020. Not until December did we see the first vaccines roll out, and now in the summer of 2021—over one year after the initial shutdown, we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
What a surreal, desolate tunnel it’s been. I’m going to avoid using the hackneyed phrases “trying times,” “unprecedented challenges,” or “the new normal” because if you haven’t heard those words by now, then let me be the first to tell you that you’re allowed to watch the news and read emails, even if you’re under quarantine.
At first, if you and your family were healthy, the shutdown didn’t seem all that bad. Whether you were employed or in school back in March of 2020, there were some advantages to working from home: no commute, no dress code, and a relaxed atmosphere to name a few. Yet in this digital age wherein trends seem to fade quickly, whatever allure was created by remote work waned as the pandemic lingered. Companies watched stock prices plummet, employees itched to go back to the office they swore they always wanted to leave, and parents questioned how much their kids were really learning.
It was a year of exceptions, though—anomalies paradoxically felt common. While stocks plummeted, some newfound investors struck it rich thanks to the likes of GameStop, Dogecoin, and other “reddit” stocks. Likewise, although many of us grew tired of sitting trapped at home, some employees and students now find themselves reluctant to leave the desks, couches, or chairs to which they’ve grown so attached. Just as there are people who are glad when it rains so that they don’t feel guilty binging a new TV show, there are people who would still prefer to roll out of bed, open up Zoom with cameras off, and work or study quietly at home. I am not one of those people. During a Q&A with a group of high school students I tutored this past year, a student asked how much I liked completing the first year of medical school remotely. Candidly, I said, “I didn’t.” She and her classmates felt the same way about high school from home.
The hardest questions to answer didn’t come from those high school students but rather from medical students in classes above mine. “How did you do anatomy?” “How did you meet your classmates without orientation?” “How did your class ever organize any events?” The simplest answer to all these types of questions is “Zoom,” but it could just as well be, “Not easily.” Despite starting medical school this past year, my year was largely uneventful. It’s been seven days a week sitting at my desk reading textbook pages and watching pre-recorded lectures.
While my year certainly could’ve been better, it also could’ve been far worse. This past year has been tough for a lot of people and for a lot of different reasons. Especially if last year was one to forget, make this year one to remember. Particularly in medicine, it’s easy to get in the habit of thinking about what lies ahead years down the road, but don’t forget to take off your blinders every once and a while because there’s no way of knowing what this year will bring.
Medicine is like a mountain range; there’s always another hill to climb. Be careful not to fall into the “once I” trap: that things will come together “once I…get into medical school, pass my board exams, graduate medical school, match into residency, start my fellowship, become an attending, get promoted,” etc. The list may never end, so focus not only on what’s ahead but also where you are now. Whatever you’re doing this fall—whether it’s high school, college, medical school, or work—tell yourself: this year will be better. If it’s a low bar, that just means there’s nowhere to go but up.
Andrew Maza is a second-year medical student at the University of Drexel College of Medicine. Prior to medical school, Andrew worked as the Vice President of Clinical Affairs at Forest Devices, a small medical device startup based in Pittsburgh, PA. Andrew is from West Chester, PA and received a BA in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh. He is a first-generation medical student and joined Prescribe It Forward as a mentor in 2020.