In the dire days of 1942, Winston Churchill used the phrase “the end of the beginning” to describe a turning point in World War II.
These words could equally be applied to a much happier and more auspicious occasion: graduation from medical school. On May 28, the Einstein class of 2014, together with thousands of students across the country, will assemble in various halls and amphitheaters for the long-anticipated rituals of med school graduation.
In one way or another, fourth-years will all have struggled to get to that point, learning more than they ever could have imagined about the workings (and failings) of human beings. They’ve gone from students intent on becoming doctors to students with M.D.s in hand.
For most students, standing to declare their oaths of allegiance to the principles and aspirations of the profession, and moving their tassels from one side of their caps to the other, represent the culmination of hard work. However, as Churchill said, this is not an end, but rather a beginning.
Graduating M.D. students will learn at least as much essential information in their residencies as they have during med school, and the application of that information will take on a real-world significance that it never quite had when they were students. They have the potential to become experts in their fields and will further develop their sense of professionalism and what it means to serve the sick.
Their time will increasingly become less their own, but with continued focus and a bit of luck, their sense of accomplishment and gratification from making “that terrific diagnosis,” occasionally saving a life, doing valuable research and teaching others what they know will make up for that.
At the end of the fourth year and before Commencement, we ask students this question: “If you could revisit your career choice, would you choose again to become a physician?” The overwhelming majority answer “Yes.”
With the residency phase of their careers upon them and the true “becoming a physician” phase just beginning, medical school graduates will come to recognize that even with all its difficulties and shortcomings, becoming a physician is a wonderful and amazing path to a rewarding and enjoyable career.