What drives you?

Starting medical school was for me, and I’m sure for most of my peers, a cascade of emotions. Being told to ‘not stress about grades anymore because the first 2 years are simply a non-graded pass or fail’, was like being told to not think about a purple elephant…what comes to mind? It’s all well and good to tell oneself something, but actually applying said knowledge is another hurdle entirely. For many of us, competition and elite achievement have been all we’ve aspired towards for most of our young adult lives and to remove that driving force is somewhat bewildering.

In fact, I’d say that it concurrently replaced one stressor with another! Whereas before gaining entry to medical school, I was content (albeit stressed) working towards no less than a high-distinction (85%) for my courses, I’m now faced with a bit of an unknown. The notion that I need only achieve above the ‘sum-of-minima’ or else fail and need to repeat the year, has left me somewhat perplexed. Whilst the grade required to pass is lower, I think the sense of uncertainty surrounding what is expected of us all has caused some unintentional anxiety for me and my peers.

What I’ve taken from this shift is that striving to succeed is a more formidable and sustainable motivator than striving to not fail. Without meandering too deeply down a philosophical rabbit-hole of sorts, I think this is a notion that holds true for many of the trials and tribulations of all walks of life. This is applicable to medicine in that, for example, a doctor ought to strive to be able to save as many lives as possible rather than striving to kill as few people as possible! Not only would this garner a better doctor, but it would also be likely to give said doctor a greater chance at fulfillment and success.

Alas, if only implementing advice were as simple as listening to it. I certainly struggled during my first year of medical school in that the tug-of-war between doing only what was expected of me and feeling as though I needed to achieve the highest grade possible left me feeling stretched and frayed. Moving forward, I’m aiming towards redirecting these forces so that they might complement, rather than oppose each other. I think that with a little active reflection on our part, my peers and I may gain access to a healthier, more sustainable source of fuel to drive us onwards. Whilst this excites me, I don’t delude myself into thinking that stress is going anywhere, anytime soon! Instead, I’ll aspire towards simply getting better at using it in a constructive way.

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Jonah Parenteau

Jonah Parenteau

Jonah is a first-year medical student at Griffith University currently aspiring towards neurology. In his future practice of medicine, he'll continue to draw inspiration from the notion that "...there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug" (Hippocratic Oath)