What is the recipe that makes an ideal medical student? Are each of us the summation of perfectly measured ingredients? Are we all weighed to the gram, set to proof until we rise just enough and gently set to bake? Or, are we haphazardly tossed into a mixing bowl, beaten together with haste and then tossed into a 350 degree oven with fingers crossed?
There is no singular formula that makes an excellent medical student. We cannot be reduced to a single variety or be created by a perfect method. We are as uniquely textured, 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 hearty rye. We can be crumbly, perhaps even delicate, like a cornbread or a muffin. Some of us are tough, maybe chewy, like a good sourdough. We can even be rough around the edges, like a soda bread or a biscuit. These differences do not make any one student superior to another; rather, they create diversity comparable to a well-laden dessert buffet, where all of our unique attributes can be appreciated.
When we face challenges as students, our recipe changes. Maybe you are salty following a difficult exam or a touch bitter after feeling overlooked on a rotation. Perhaps you have been kneaded too hard and toughened a little. You may have been impatient during your proof, rushed into the oven and fallen flat as a result. Perhaps you turned the heat up too high by trying to do too much and were scorched in the process. But the interesting thing about bread is that there is always some room to experiment.
Some flours, like spelt, must be carefully hydrated to produce a desired texture. Breadmakers use special techniques and tools to create patterns in a dough, turning an ordinary boule or loaf into a work of art. Other bakers decorate with coarse sugar or egg wash to provide a delightful shine atop a warm brioche or challah. Sometimes the most special thing about a loaf of bread is how different it is, rather than how well it fits a particular standard. Breadmaking, like medical school, is scientific in nature with the potential for individual style and finesse. Even the most practiced baker may need to go back to the drawing board and rework the formula to try to make a better loaf.
I implore 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? Do you need a longer proof time to pore over questions, ensuring you retain the information and are prepared for the day to come? Maybe you need a sprinkle of yeast (or coffee) to rise to the occasion before rounds if you are challenged by public speaking. You might even need extra butter in the pan to keep from feeling stuck when things do not 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 being molded and refined in that time, and sometimes recipes need to be tweaked in order to produce the best result. We may change style, shape, and texture over our years in medical school, but the evolutions along the way will still be, in a word, delicious.