Superheroes, Autophagy, and Medical School

By Andrew Park (’18)

Note: This story was originally posted on the Geisel Med Blog. To read more stories about student experiences at Geisel, click here.

At some point before we submitted our applications to AMCAS, we dreamed of saving somebody’s life, or at least of making the lives of others better, and, by gosh, that’s what we’re here at medical school to do. I don’t mean to sound pompous, but we are in the process of becoming superheroes. Like all superheroes, we soon find out that we have to shed all traces of what has shaped us to this point in life. It is simply a matter of necessity: the material tested on a midterm as an undergrad is equivalent to about one day’s worth of material in medical school.

And so our minds undergo a form of autophagy, removing the unnecessary bits of information to make room for the new. It matters very little now if you can still remember how many times Ross and Rachel were “on a break,” or what that song was that you learned in second grade to help you recall all 50 states. (The only states that matter now are New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and, of course, California in third year. Maybe New York, too—the city, not the state.)

I wish that the premise of the movie Lucy were true—that we only use 10% of our brain. I know it’s not, but it would certainly be useful, as the after just the first couple of days in class our minds have been bombarded with material to the point that we don’t even know how to feel overwhelmed.

That feeling of half of your brain imploding? That’s simply your brain making room for what you’re about to learn. It’s autophagy alright. Our mind is eating itself to get rid of a big chunk of our self-centered desires to make room for the reason we came to Geisel. We are here to bring healing to the world, to bring a smile to a sick child, and to put others before ourselves. So while that feeling of a numbing headache is still fresh in our minds, let’s take time to reflect on our old selves. It’s now time for us to put on our undergarments over our trousers and face this new chapter in life.

Andrew Park (’18) graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012 and recently moved from Los Angeles to New Hampshire.