In one of my recent interviews, I made an offhand comment about how enjoyable I have found medical school. After a brief pause to reflect, I followed that up by saying, “Well, I suppose that is the ‘remembering me’ talking. The ‘experiencing me’ had his share of tough times!” My interviewer made a good point that the remembering self is a better benchmark. Due to the malleability of memory, it takes a certain degree of trauma to leave a strong negative lasting impression.
First of all, it is perfectly fine to experience brief intermitted bouts of intense stress. I always maintained a weekly system of rest to disrupt the stress cycles. As I never felt like the stress of medical school endured longer than any given week, my body/mind never made the transition to the “oh shit chronic stress we’re slowly dying” stage.
Secondly, the hardships I endured during medical school don’t leave a negative overall impression because I have always attributed to them a positive meaning. In terms of mental well-being, the meaning that we give to hardships weighs more heavily than the hardship itself. For this reason, optimists tend to be more resilient, more healthy and happy, and yes, to live longer! To make positive meaning out of the arduousness of training as a doctor, remember that every hardship is volitional and fits into your overall plan for a meaningful life. This is why it is so important to have a strong sense of purpose for going to medical school in the first place. At times, that deeply guarded purpose will be all that sustains you.
In general, however, medical school is genuinely fun and rewarding. There is a cultural imperative to act slightly disgruntled about being in medical school. This whole notion seems to be a reflection of the larger societal trend to be unhappy at work, and it should be rejected outright.