Although it feels like I just moved to Birmingham the other day, it is time for yet another transition!
Over the past 6 weeks, my new MSTP classmates and I completed our first rotation by working full-time in a research lab on campus. We also took our first class, MSTP 793, which involved reading and presenting papers on subjects that would not be covered by the medical or graduate curriculum.
Fortunately, we all survived the pre-MS1 summer (more or less) intact. Our next stop will be medical school! We had orientation last week, and we are now beginning Patient, Doctor, and Society, a 2-week introductory class for all medical students.
As I reflect on my experience at UAB, I realize I am still very new. However, I feel as though I have grown more in this summer than in any other period in my life. It has been an amazing adventure.
To summarize everything I have learned over the past few weeks would be a nearly impossible task. Yet I can definitively claim that this experience has already begun to re-shape my world. In particular, there are three words that UAB has redefined for me:
I was initially unequivocally excited about being accepted to the UAB MSTP. Soon, however, I began to experience Imposter Syndrome (read more here!). I didn’t feel worthy of such a prestigious opportunity, and the pressure began to mount. I thought that as I moved to Birmingham, I would have to prove my worth and value to the program.
Thankfully, I quickly found this to be false. Applying to medical school is certainly competitive; you are pressured to constantly explain why you should be selected amongst hundreds or thousands of applicants. But I understand now that once you get in… you made it. At UAB, each student becomes part of the community rather than a subject to be evaluated and either kept or left behind.
I can vividly recall one of the deans reassuring our class during medical school orientation last week: “Take a deep breath! You made it. You’re here. Each of you has what it takes to be an excellent doctor, and we will help you get there.” To me, this is part of what makes the culture at UAB so excellent. The MD and MSTP administrations believe in us and want us to succeed. Additionally, they are willing to give us every benefit of the doubt and every tool possible to help us get there.
Even when I didn’t see the data I wanted in my rotation or didn’t understand something we read for our MSTP 793 class, I found that not a single person in the program changed his/her opinion of me. A singular success or failure did not dictate my worth. Instead, those in the program fought for me. They never doubted my capabilities or their decision to accept me and instead challenged themselves to find the resources to help me be everything they see in me.
I have been cautious to really take a deep breath and to realize that I was – and am – accepted. But with the help of an incredibly supportive program, I am getting there. And it is strikingly liberating.
I was also truly surprised by the level of independence I am allowed. I think this complements the idea of acceptance and the trust that UAB has placed in my abilities. When I began the MSTP, I had this notion that the program would constantly evaluate me. They would check in with me frequently as I began my rotation until they were sure I was hitting a certain standard of excellence, and even then, they would give step-by-step guidance on things I needed to do to stay in the program.
Conversely, I found that there wasn’t anyone looking over my shoulder. This is not to say that I was alone by any means. We received informative orientations, and I knew I could go to our director or our program manager (both of whom are genuinely two of the kindest, most resourceful people I’ve ever met) with questions. But I also learned that even a mere week into the program, I could set my own work hours. I could set my own research goals. I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission to pursue my desired project or provide reports to show that I was staying “on track.” The first rotation was designed for me to learn and explore, and I could mold it into just about anything I wanted.
Perhaps the best realization of my experience thus far: Even when I pave my own path, I am supported impeccably. I am only beginning to grasp that this is what makes UAB incredible. I have met many administrators, faculty members, etc, to whom I could turn in any kind of pinch. Multiple people have listened to my concerns and embraced me rather than judged me. They have reassured me that I am strong, courageous, and capable. And to help me realize my strength, they work tirelessly behind the scenes to give me a platform on which to stand and succeed.
Outside of academia, I have been duly embraced by my peers. I have found that students here are genuinely interested in who I am and what challenges I face. I truly cannot say enough about my fellow MSTP classmates. I always feel safe, loved, and strong when I see another MSTP student, even from across the room.
We have laughed together as we played Scattergories and someone misunderstood the instructions so he followed only the first of 12 prompts and wrote down 12 boys’ names starting with H. We have collapsed as tired, exhausted messes together. We’ve sang and danced together. We’ve cheered for each other unabashedly even in a room full of strangers and helped each other succeed. We’ve embraced our differences, teased each other for them, and defended each other ferociously if anything dared to challenge what makes us each unique. I feel a true sense of family here, and I could not be more grateful.
Perhaps in sum, I feel as though I am accepted – in all of my independence and individuality – into this new family. Part of me feels that nothing I learn in the next few years will quite match up to this invaluable lesson, but I’m certainly excited to try.
I’m sure I’ll stumble a lot in medical school (and that’s probably an understatement), but I truly believe I could not find a more supportive place to help me pick myself back up when it happens.
Cheers to new beginnings!
Emily Hayward, MS-1