Caleb opened his mouth and said something really stupid. “I am wondering how this election is going to turn out. I really think that John is my stiffest competition. He really could win. I, mean, no offense… but I am not worried about you winning.” I still remember this conversation from the first year of medical school like it was yesterday. This was one of the first times in my life someone so profoundly told me “You can’t” or “You won’t” straight to my face.
Following after Doc G’s example over at DiverseFI, here are three of my favorite stories where someone told me “you can’t” or “you won’t.”
I revel in these moments. And so should you!
Class President Election
The above conversation was centered around the class president election. Honestly, I didn’t even want to do it. But many people in our class didn’t want the other two guys who were running to win.
So, several of them asked me to run. After they asked me, I spent the next two days learning every single one of the 120 names in my class. I called everyone by their first name and showed them that I cared what they thought.
Being a guy interested in political processes, I responded to Caleb’s remark above by teaching him about something called “name recognition.” I remember his face getting bright red with anger as he realized that the guy he thought would come in third (out of three contestants) was telling him how it all worked.
I won that election handily and got to put white coats on my entire class at the “White Coat Ceremony.” Caleb and John included. I then went on to win the second year election for class president and, then, became the student body president in my third year.
Not too shabby for the guy who “can’t.”
Medical School Failures
I was never a really good reader. In fact, my reading rate is abysmal. I just didn’t know that until medical school.
My entire life tests never felt too long. That was all until the end of my first year of med school (a rough year for me in this category, obviously). The tests got so long that I couldn’t finish. The stems were massive in length. The rest of my class, who could read normally, had time to check their answers a second time. I couldn’t make it through once.
I went and got tested and found out I had a reading disability. My comprehension was fine, but my reading rate was in the bottom 5% of college seniors.
When I approached my medical school professor to explain the situation and to ask him if I could get an extension on my next test, his response wasn’t just “no.” This is what he said.
“Well, that’s concerning TPP. You know what this probably means, right? You probably won’t make it out of medical school. But that’s okay… I know a lot of people in this town. I can probably find you a job.”
He didn’t know me. You can imagine what went through my head when I heard this. Instead of spewing my venom out loud, I just told him that all I was asking for was help and that I told him that I would prove him wrong.
Those first two years were rough for me. I was 103 out of 119 after the completion of first and second year. Not too stellar. But I didn’t fail!
Trial by Tribulation
Then, USMLE Step 1 came. I was scared. I had been practicing for twelve months how to read test questions faster. Focus harder, skim if needed. I learned to read the question before the stem to make it easier.
I studied my tail off for Step 1. If anything was going to knock me out of medical school, this was it. When the score finally came, I was relieved that not only did I pass but I did better than average by a wide margin. I crushed it (for me). I wasn’t going to fail out of medical school.
With momentum going forward, my class rank in my third year improved to the top 25%. A large improvement from being in the bottom after the first two years. Though my knowledge base wasn’t as strong as some, I was really good clinically. Particularly with procedures. This all set me up for success that year.
Step 2 went the same way as Step 1. Good enough. I matched at my top choice residency and four of the top five programs I ranked would call me and tell me I had a spot if I wanted it.
Four years later I was nominated by my co-residents and elected by my department to become one of the two chief residents.
Pretty good for the kid who was going to fail out of medical school.
The Naysayers Never Stop
Even after a promising start to my residency career, I was told no in other areas of my work.
My residency program is known for producing really good clinicians. We are not as well known for research.
In my PGY-3 year, I approached a very well known researcher in our specialty who no longer worked clinically. I told him I had an idea for a couple of studies. He told me he didn’t see how it was worth looking into. He just didn’t understand the mechanism of action for the drugs I was asking about.
In fact, he discouraged me from doing the studies because he felt that they wouldn’t really produce important results. These studies weren’t in his area of expertise, but he was a very prominent figure in the anesthesia research world.
A bit discouraged, I went and talked with a few other faculty members in the regional anesthesia section about my ideas. They said the studies would be tough, but that they would be glad to help me do them if I still wanted to pursue them.
Three years later as a first year attending I published the results of those two studies. Both were accepted for publication this year. One of them in the highest impact journal in the specialty of anesthesia.
Not too bad for a study that wasn’t worth pursuing.
Don’t let “you can’t” or “you won’t” be a show stopper.
People say lots of stupid things that aren’t founded in reality. Other people love lording power over others just so they can say “I was right; you were wrong.” If you really want something, it is often necessary to push through the naysayers. Financial independence can often protect you.
While this is a bit of a fiesty post, I should say that it is important to often heed the advice of family and friends that are looking out for our greater good. Ignoring the advice of loved ones is not what this post is about.
Don’t ignore good advice. But, please, do ignore the naysayers who say you can’t because they couldn’t.
I’ll keep hustlin’ and I hope you will, too.
Have you ever been told that you couldn’t do something? Have you ever had the sweet satisfaction of proving that person wrong? Tell your story in the comments below.