Valediction

I am now a doctor. The result that I passed my finals came on Friday, and the declaration happened Sunday afternoon. I start work as the most junior of junior doctors – a Foundation Year 1 – at the end of July in Milton Keynes. So now you know where to avoid if you get sick in August.

Traditionally (at least in the ‘States) students have a valedictory address at the end of their course, given by the top-ranked student of the year. This is a less auspicious farewell: I am a long way down any order of merit you care to name, and medical school has been a struggle. Things did get better in my final year, but the last six years haven’t been some Bildungsroman of how I transformed from spotty student to modern medical professional.

I’m still scared I’m not good enough. From what I haven’t done (at least, not on a non-plastic patient), from what I don’t know, to when I haven’t listened, there are fertile grounds for doubts. I find my mind keeps racing from these defects to hypothetical disaster. Although the medical profession is sane enough to carefully circumscribe the responsibility of junior doctors like me, this is still much more than I ever had as a student, and the excuses (“sorry, just a student, I’ll go and get a doctor”; “I can learn that later, I’m not qualified yet”) are gone. I feel like I am playing catch-up to the doctor I want to be, and I haven’t even started.

It isn’t just the ‘hard’ skills, either. Many of my peers have a natural flair for humanity: knowing what to say or do with people who are sick, vulnerable, or fearful. These people fill me with awe and envy, because I’m no natural at this – too often clumsy, awkward, thoughtless, insipid, and afraid. I doubt these things will get easier, but I’ve been fortunate to have these (often unwitting) exemplars to model myself upon, and I hope their supply does not dry up on the job.

The stakes are higher now, too. Although doctors flatter themselves into thinking they heal the sick and save lives (the impact they make is actually fairly modest) not everything that matters can be measured in QALYs. Doctors remain one of the most trusted groups of people, one of the few strangers are willing to confide in or strip naked for, and are granted ring-side seats to many of the most important moments of other people’s lives. I hope I prove worthy of this privilege. We’ll see.

I’m not only a doctor, but I’m no longer a student. Six years, three degrees and 47 exams (well, 50 for me, but never mind) later, and I’m finally leaving Cambridge. I will be sad to leave it behind, but glad for all the memories I will take with me: may balls, conversations, music, sketch shows, debate, picnic, and legions more. I’ve learnt to be more open and try new things, as they generally turn out to be pretty fun. I regret I didn’t figure that out sooner – I realize life is shorter and more fleeting than I thought it was, and I don’t want it to pass me by. But better late than never.

Most of all, though, I’m thankful for all the friends I have made. They’ve prodded me out of my comfort zone, inspired (and embarrassed) me with their talents, got me through medical school (and other things besides), and generally brightened my life with their company. My balance-of-payments to almost all of them are strongly slanted to their credit, and many of these debts I am unlikely to repay. I hope these friendships will withstand us being strewn around the UK; if life gets in the way, I’m happy for the time I had.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone I wanted to, nor in the manner I would have liked. Hence this, and the obligatory Shakespeare quote:

If we do meet again, we’ll smile indeed.
If not, ’tis true this parting was well made.

So, to summarise:

  1. Always welcome to catch up in person, or to stay in touch via phone or email or whatever.
  2. Thanks so much, for everything.
  3. Enjoy life!

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