This post-high school era has been simultaneously slow and lightning fast. There have been good days and bad days, great years and not-so-great years. There were semesters of crossing days off the calendar and anticipating the next holiday, and semesters (like this one) where I wouldn’t mind the brakes on as the reality of work as a doctor next year seems scarily close. Looking back on the degree as a whole, I wonder, where did the time go? It feels like yesterday that I was walking through my College doors getting a rather loud megaphoned welcome by the committee running O-Week. It’s like I blinked and went from sheer terror in my first anatomy lesson, to assisting in gnarly surgeries and actually enjoying it. But at the same time, it’s hard to remember life before clinical placement and a world where I had never uttered the words obs stable, afebrile or knew what on earth a spleen actually was. When I signed up to university, I was similar to the person sitting here today, but definitely not the same. It was six years where life has changed and I grew up. A lot.
On the final day of lectures, after 10 semesters and 108 weeks of hospital placement, when the closing address finished and we were announced as the Class of 2019, it felt pretty surreal. I’m not sure when, or if, that feeling will go away. But it’s time to hang up the student identity and get ready for the real world.
Small fish, big pond
Moving interstate from a school with 150 people in the year to a cohort of 500 in a new city was daunting. Starting from scratch and knowing not a single soul had its tough moments, but the opportunity to have a fresh start and carve a life in a new environment was pretty exciting. Melbourne has been a fantastic city to live in, with a vibrant culture and never a dull moment. Converting my Tasmanian licence felt strange and although Melbourne has been unbeatable, Tassie will always be home.
For someone with a predisposition to freaking out being thrown into new social situations, there were plenty of challenging days over the years, that’s for sure. From big college parties to new medical teams every couple of weeks, the number of people you meet during university is astronomical. But walking out of university with some beautiful friends, a lovely boyfriend with a killer sense of humour, and fantastic memories, it’s fair to say that I couldn’t have hoped for more over the years.
One of the weirdest things to come to terms with – which I didn’t anticipate – was the small fish, big pond feeling. And it hits you pretty quick. Transitioning to university and realising that you’re not the only Type A personality but now, in fact, you’re surrounded almost exclusively by other Type A’s, requires a mentality shift. It is impossible, well at least for the vast, vast majority, to be the best of the best in your cohort and know everything there is to know. You have to accept that you won’t always be in the top of the group and it’s not unusual to not receive awards, recognition, or even good results. There were days post-consultant roast where I felt completely knocked down, but similarly there were days when you get the diagnosis right or somehow know the obscure fact your supervisor was quizzing you on. Luckily those good days have outweighed the bad.
Having been wrapped in cotton wool a bit at school, it took time to learn to build confidence in myself and my abilities, and not have to rely on positive feedback from others. It’s an important lesson to learn in the field, because if you don’t get used to not always knowing everything, being recognised in the big pack, or being the best, you put too much pressure on yourself and could easily burn out.
In the right place?
A lot of my colleagues have always wanted to do medicine, but I haven’t found it so simple. Some placements I have low-key spent hours staring at the clock waiting for time to pass but then on others I have fallen in love with the specialty and wanted to be there forever, not even noticing the 12-hour days. It was hard to keep momentum in third year with 3.5-hour round trip commutes each day (if you make the train on time) and personal stuff to deal with outside of uni. But as with everything, it passes.
And eventually you end up on a placement where you know that you’re in the right place and doing the right thing, where you find it interesting and don’t mind how much time you’re spending. There’s nothing quite like finding an area where your skills click, you are making an impact, and you just feel like you’re in the right place. After all these years, with four out of the five years having no idea where I wanted to go with my career, I am finally finishing the degree feeling like I’m in the right place. And although things definitely did not pan out how I had anticipated, I have learned to go with the flow and have found a pathway I would love to pursue.
One of the parts of medicine that I’ve found the hardest to deal with was the feeling of not being in charge of my own destiny. Particularly coming to terms with the fact that you can be sent, at the mercy of computer systems and algorithms, to anywhere in the state for placement and work irrespective of the life you have built or your aspirations. That you get what you’re given and you can’t really ask questions. It’s just the way the system works. It makes it hard to feel settled when you move around so much. Not knowing if next year you’ll still be in the same state, or if next month you’ll be in the same city, makes it hard to plan for the future and plant roots. Fortunately I have been able to work online which has made it easier financially but, after all this moving and travel over the years, there is a big part of me which is ready to put some roots down. But I’m fairly sure that security won’t come for a while.
With the power of retrospection, looking back over the time as a whole, it’s crazy to think just how much we have all learnt. Not just the textbook stuff, but being privileged enough to learn first-hand how to help others when it’s needed most, how to be effective in teams, and to have the opportunity to learn an array of great (albeit sometimes kind of gross) skills. And I am really grateful to have made it through thus far.
And as you’ve probably noticed if you’re reading this website in the first place, these past few years have been a whirlwind outside of the degree, too. From the first year at uni, I knew pretty quickly that I needed to have a hobby outside of studying to keep sane. Having spent my time pre-uni wanting to be creative writer or in law, the non-scientific part of my brain needed some air time and it was happy to be dusted off here. Starting Travel Textbook to document various adventures through travel and life has been a really fun outlet and a chance to learn a lot of new skills. It has taken me to destinations, pushed me into experiences that I had not expected, and provided some colourful experiences which have enriched my early 20s (and provided some good party stories).
Since walking through the not-so-aesthetic doors of the med school building for the first time, I’ve set foot in 26 countries, gone to two international conferences, written 116 travel blog posts, worked for some phenomenal companies, and fallen in love with London life on medical elective. In these years, I overcame my intense fear of solo travelling and am writing this article about to board a flight for a five week solo trip around Mexico (much to the concern of my nearest and dearest). I have become aware of my limitations yet more inspired than ever to push myself to have vibrant (but safe – don’t worry, parents) experiences and follow what I love, even if it’s not the traditional option.
Starting the new chapter
It has been a real privilege to have these experiences and be let into the lives and stories of so many people over these five years. It has been a humbling half decade and a time which has made me appreciate the strength that people are capable of and the importance of living life to the fullest. And although it’s the most cliché utterance yet, I honestly do feel like a completely different person. I used to really struggle doing things by myself, so if you showed 18-year-old Lucy that she would’ve moved cities, graduated, started a business, overcome a fear of blood and needles (seriously — did this not seem like a problem when signing up for med?), and solo travelled in twelve countries, she wouldn’t have believed you.
And although I feel proud of what I have achieved on my ownsome, it takes a village to get through this course. Always having the support of my wonderful family and a beautiful Tasmanian haven to return to when things got rough has been a godsend. Being surrounded by great groups of med and non-med friends who were willing to help with study and de-stressing after study were also a life-saver. Being surrounded by supportive people is really under-valued, and having caring hospital teams, flexible employment, and a team of friends and family by your side make the years a heck of a lot easier.
Next year the work really starts. No doubt there will be incredibly tough days and the adulting will certainly be in full swing. With a new job, new network, new home, and not having to budget so hard, it’ll be a lot of fresh changes. But I can’t wait to get started on this new chapter and see what comes next.