Saturday, I graduated from medical school. Sunday, I moved 400 miles. Today, I showed up at my new residency for my employee health screening/physical. There’s been so much craziness over the last few days, that I’ve barely had a moment to process all these big changes in my life.
When I returned my gown after the grad ceremony, I was handed a manila envelope. “Health clearance records and stuff,” the staffperson said. That’s nice of them, I thought, knowing that we all had so much else on our minds besides digging up records for our residency programs. I tossed it in the back of the car with my graduation cap, and immediately forgot about it as I reverted to stressing about coordinating lunch and family and finishing my packing.
I brought the manila envelope with me to the hospital today for my physical, and pulled out copies of my diploma, health clearance records from four years ago when I entered medical school, a reminder about the medical school alumni association, etc. It wasn’t until later, as I was putting these papers back into the manila envelope that I realized there was something else in the envelope, something smaller that had escaped my notice. I pulled out a small note-card sized envelope and thought, oh it must be a congratulations or goodbye card from the school staff… I then realized that it was MY handwriting on the front that had addressed it to “Sharon Pham, c/o 2008”.
I opened it up to find a note written to me, by me, four years ago:
Oct 2, 2004
You’re an MD! As a premed in college the road seemed endless, but now you’re there. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the journey and retained the idealism and passion that motivated you to take this path. When you started med school you had a number of interests – peds hem/onc, health policy, underserved communities, teaching – and these may have changed or strengthened. You also had (or have) a boyfriend of 2 yrs who you could see yourself growing old with. Hopefully you’ll continue to have wonderful people in your life and enjoy a good balance of professional and personal lives. Never forget where you’ve been as you head into new and exciting parts of your life.
I nearly cried when I read this (and am in fact crying right now as I copy my note for this post). When we were given 10 minutes at our first-year retreat to do this exercise, I had no idea what to write and no clue what the next four years would hold for me. And yet, I managed to write the perfect note for me. For future med school graduate me who has survived four years of some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows, and has questioned her career choice a hundred or so times (and questioned her sanity a million times), and has met some amazing people along the way (patients, attendings, classmates), and and who, by the way, still has that boyfriend (now 6 yrs and counting).
At our retreat four years ago, I had no idea how valuable this exercise would turn out to be, and now I’m so thankful that someone told me to write this letter to myself. I hope the rest of my classmates find their notes an equally pleasant (and poignant) surprise.