What is the recipe that makes an ideal medical student? Are we all the sum of perfectly measured ingredients? Are we all weighed down to the gram, ready to prove until we stand up? only enough and set soft to bake? Or are we haphazardly thrown into a mixing bowl, hastily scrambled, and then tossed fingers crossed into a 350-degree oven?
There is no unique formula that makes an excellent medical student. We cannot be reduced to a single variety or created by a perfect method. We are just as uniquely structured, seasoned and baked as, say, a loaf of bread.
Medical students come in a plethora of varieties, textures, and types. Some of us are hard and some of us are soft. Some of us are sweet, like milk bread, and some of us are sour, like a firm rye. We can be crumbly, maybe even delicate, like a cornbread or a muffin. Some of us are chewy, maybe chewy, like a good sourdough. We can even be rough, like a soda bread or a cookie. These differences do not make one student superior to another; rather, they create a diversity comparable to a well-loaded dessert buffet, where all our unique attributes can be appreciated.
When we as students face challenges, our recipe changes. You may be salty after a tough exam or a little bitter after feeling overlooked on a rotation. Maybe you’ve kneaded too hard and got a little tough. You may have been impatient during your test, rushed into the oven and fell flat as a result. Maybe you turned the heat too high by trying too much and got scorched in the process. But the interesting thing about bread is that there is always some room to experiment.
Some flours, such as spelled, need to be carefully hydrated to get the desired texture. Bread makers use special techniques and tools to create patterns in dough, turning an ordinary boule or bread into a work of art. Other bakers garnish with coarse sugar or egg wash to add a delicious sheen atop a warm brioche or challah. Sometimes the most special thing about a bread is how different it is, rather than how well it fits a particular standard. Bread baking, like medical training, is scientific in nature with the potential for individual style and finesse. Even the most experienced baker may have to go back to the drawing board and rework the formula to make a better loaf of bread.
I beg you to look at your own recipe – what kind of bread do you want to be? What ingredients do you need? Could you use a little more cinnamon or sugar for warmth and sweetness? Need a longer probationary period to think through your questions so you can retain the information and be prepared for the day ahead? You may need a pinch of yeast (or coffee) to get you going before the rounds if you’re challenged by public speaking. You may even need extra butter in the pan to avoid getting stuck if things don’t go according to plan.
Medical school can feel like going from frying pan to fire over the course of four years. We are all recipes shaped and refined over time, and sometimes recipes need to be tweaked to produce the best results. We may change style, shape and texture during our years in medical school, but the evolutions along the way will still be, in a word, delightful.