by Kavitha Ranganathan, MD
July 1st, the first day of intern year, is like your first date- you spend the greater part of adolescence planning that carefree, gentle swagger to the door at the end of the night, dreaming about the exact moment when those fireworks will go off, and instead recognize that you had part of the main course stubbornly wedged between your teeth during dinner, forgot your wallet, and realize that there is in fact no way to end the awkward silence that crowds the night as you want nothing more than to run away from the chaos that has just ensued. After days of practicing in the mirror introducing myself as Dr. Ranganathan, neatly arranging my ACLS cards into my new, long white coat pocket, and energetically embracing my new position to change the world, I instead found myself in a constant state of panic wondering if my patient on DVT prophylaxis was going to bleed out through her IV sites and what the meaning of HLIV (hep-lock IV) actually was on that first day of intern year, wanting nothing but to go back to medical school where things were more comfortable.
Once the initial discomfort settles, however, you are left questioning what your purpose is as it relates to being a surgeon, and whether you will be able to make an impact on this world given the juxtaposition of brilliance and inefficiency, privilege and inequality, generosity and greed that typifies our current health care system. Amidst the clouded haze of intern year, I once asked my mentor how I could ensure that I would change the world- and in a really big way.
What is important, he said, is passion. The discovery of modern science, my mentor told me, is like a staircase. Each small step leads to another small step, and many small steps lead to the large platform step, the one that is met with fame, fortune, and the sense of success- and big change. While each discovery may not be met with the recognition, praise, or overt sense of satisfaction that some are, the “big” discoveries would not have been possible without the “small” ones beforehand, and without passion none of these discoveries would have occurred at all.
While the term “contribution” seems inextricably linked to the term “success” especially during the trials of intern year, we must remember to keep these terms separate from one other and fundamentally independent from self-worth and accomplishment. Rather, we must focus on our passions and keeping things comfortably uncomfortable.