As a second-semester freshman at Vanderbilt, I was surrounded by equilibrium. In general chemistry, we learned about chemical equilibrium, describing the balance of reactants and products in a chemical reaction with the equilibrium constant K. In neuroscience, Dr. Smith gave a lecture on the equilibrium potential of ions in a neuron’s cell membrane, and how changes in these membrane potentials — when ions flow in and out of the cell — can lead to action potentials. In macroeconomics, I learned about the market equilibrium between supply and demand, representing the balance point at which the price buyers are willing to pay equals the quantity sellers are willing to sell in a given market. Even in my intro sociology class, I explored equilibrium. According to functionalism, one of the major sociological perspectives, society operates through the interconnectedness of its parts, and social institutions serve specific functions that keep the whole in equilibrium.
I couldn’t stop annoying anyone who would listen by talking about how it struck me that a common thread ran through all four of these very different classes: trying to maintain a precarious state of balance. Reflecting on my first few months at Vanderbilt, I struggled to find my own sense of balance. I was overwhelmed and overschedule — trying to stay on top of classes, make new friends, attend club meetings and enjoy campus events. I found myself falling into the trap of feeling like I had to do everything, especially because I was surrounded by so many accomplished peers. I felt like a tiny fish in an unnavigable sea.
It wasn’t until the second semester that Vanderbilt really started to feel like a new home. I found true purpose when I stopped comparing myself to those around me and started focusing on myself. I went on a life changing Alternative Spring Break trip, I appreciated the bigger picture of what I was learning in my classes, I joined clubs I cared about and I was lucky enough to make friendships I know will last a lifetime. After four (four!) lectures on equilibrium, I finally felt like the balance I studied in the classroom translated to my own life.
Standing in the Present
Now, I find myself in a similar situation to the one I was in four years ago: starting medical school at Johns Hopkins — doe-eyed and excited but nervous about maintaining a sense of balance. I will try to remind myself of what I know works for me. When things get difficult, I will take a step back to re-focus and re-frame my goals. I will reaffirm the reasons I chose to practice medicine, and add new motivations each step of the way as I learn from professors, peers and patients. Most of all, I want to find my own equilibrium: the balance among academics, activities and self-care that makes sense to me.
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- Facing Your Own Cynicism in Biomedical Professions
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