As we took turns sharing our fears about upcoming transitions, it became clear that everyone in the room, from M1s to PGY35s, had at least some anticipatory anxiety about the unknown. The M4s expressed the common concern that they wouldn’t be ready to be doctors when they graduated in a couple months. I can honestly say I don’t share that fear, because I already know that I won’t be ready to be a doctor by the time I graduate. I can’t imagine that any newly minted MD has ever been “ready to be a doctor”. That’s what the intern year is for. I will be happy if by the time I graduate I’ve merely decided on what kind of doctor I want to be.
In Greek there is a verb tense that is more nuanced than out simple future and present. It is used to convey the idea of something that is “already, but not yet”. This is a good way to look at our medical education. From the first day we donned our short white coats we were already physicians (albeit physicians in training). But at every stage in our careers, especially upon graduation, we have not yet learned all there is to know.
The perspective of Already, but Not Yet may seem abstract, but it has some very practical implications. From Day 1, we are already a vital part of the medical system. This means that we have to go beyond treating M1 and M2 as simple extensions of undergraduate and start early in molding ourselves into the physicians we want to be. Recognizing that we are not yet the doctors we will be keeps us humble and curious.
At every step of the journey, treat yourself with grace as you realize you are not who you will be. Relish the difficult decisions you face as opportunities to shape your identity as a physician and as a person. Love the journey, because until we die we are always already, but not yet.