What Writing Taught Me About Practicing Medicine
Published on Feb 11, 2021. Updated on Feb 11, 2021.
Today on the Osmosis blog, OMEF Abigail Cano López shares how engaging in mindful writing practices like Narrative Medicine helped her navigate the stresses of medical school and ultimately learn to be more forgiving of herself.
Lost and Alice
During my fifth year of medical school, my mask finally shattered. Feeling like an absolute failure, crying, empty, tired of this constant battle against my thoughts, I realized I needed to make my mental health a priority. In an effort to help my psychologist picture what I was going through, I started writing. The first piece I gave her was “Alice.” Alice isn’t poetry or lyrics; she is a picture of myself and my soul.
I never thought that writing would be useful in my life. It was just another hobby, a space hidden between books to keep my thoughts safe. At one point, I questioned my career path. wondering if I should become a writer instead of a doctor. As life goes, it was already the start of a new semester—I decided it was easier to go with the flow. Who would have known that in the flow writing opportunities came up at my school!
Finding writing opportunities in medical school
This semester was different! My psychiatry professor, for one, took a unique approach to our didactic lectures. She would play with critical and artistic skills, from painting perceptions of psychiatric disorders, to writing movies about psychodramas. Through her lectures, I found a different world, a place where my words weren’t useless; the same place that allowed me to heal mentally and find the freedom to admit “it’s okay not being okay.”
During the same semester, I decided to take an extracurricular class called Electronic Research of Information. This wasn’t your typical medical school elective course. I enrolled in thinking it would help me with my homework, but I was fortunate to have a professor who allowed me to write! I discussed everything from healthcare systems worldwide to economic inequality, and even the role the internet plays in our lives as future healthcare providers. Shockingly, I even found the courage to read one of my essays to a small audience. (For those of you who don’t know me, I am only used to public speaking in front of my mirror or at best, my dog!)
Don't stop writing
It’s still hard for me to accept and admit that Alice, the name I’ve given to the things I dislike about myself, is a part of me. I can’t give her adjectives, because for me they aren't useful, beautiful, helpful, or funny. This is just me, rewriting the world I live through this looking glass. As I slowly learned to accept Alice, I began to take care of her, as a gardener looks after the plants.
Accepting yourself isn’t like driving on a highway. I asked my psychologist countless times for success formulas—quick ways to feel happy, any opportunity, to run away from my worst judge: me. And every time, my psychologist accomplished the mission of revealing an unceded part of me. Swimming in the ocean against a hurricane is the best description for that time in my life: progress and backsliding, being tired of crying, questioning my feelings, and repeating.
It’s my theory that things like this tend to happen at a perfect yet hazardous moment in your life. If my decisions had been a little different, I wouldn’t have had enough power to overcome what looked like an overwhelming future that’s now in the past. If you can relate, know this. Every single awful, sad, difficult time you are having: it will pass, it always does, it has an end even if it does not seem at all that way right now. The key? How you choose to pass through it. How you choose to handle things is always your choice, and fortunately, your choice can change every time you want.
I say to myself those words as many times as I consider necessary. Forgiving Abi for not being perfect, for making mistakes, for putting myself out there and taking risks—being an OMEF one of many—and having this superpower of writing down my ideas and creating new ones all the time.
So, look at my little secret: this is the most difficult exercise of my lifetime, and it’s always ongoing. Fortunately, there was gold at the end of this rainbow—it’s called empathy, not just for others, but for myself.
Empathy and farewell
Last year during my surgical rotations, I formed a special connection with an older patient. Doing routine work, she took my hand and asked: How’s your heart? These are hard times for dreamers, but I constantly see you smiling.
While helping her into her wheelchair (she was leaving the hospital), we talked about our love lives, and I told her about my professional and family aspirations. Once we had finished philosophizing about life and the moment was over, I washed my tears away in the bathroom. It was a beautiful feeling, like a flower had just opened in my heart. Don’t misunderstand me: I learnt a lot academically and in clinics that year. This connection with the patient was just slightly different: this experience, this milestone, crystallized the fact that I was born to practice medicine.
Every part of you is extremely important. Give yourself the opportunity to listen, to shout out, and to just be. Even if there’s something you don’t like about yourself, examine that closely, and express it creatively, whether it’s through writing or whatever other medium you like. This reflection could lead you to the missing puzzle piece and bring you closer to the incredible person you are becoming. Remember, this is your road: don’t be afraid to take risks and make creative leaps. These decisions could present opportunities to build yourself up, or help you realize where you're meant to be in the world.
For me, writing started as a hobby; now it’s part of who I am. In closing, I’ll leave you with a poem—I hope it inspires you to use writing to learn more about yourself and your place in the world.
Abigail Cano López is a seventh-year medical student at Escuela Nacional de Medicina y Homeopatía dentro del Instituto Politécnico Nacional. She is from México, and is interested in Psychiatry and Neurology. She loves writing, swimming, cycling and doing yoga, but most of all, she loves being an OMEF!
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