By Rasa Rafie, MS, OMSII
Rasa Rafie is a second-year medical student in Colorado. Before medical school, she attended Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she received her master's in science in global medicine. Her global health experience includes studying sugar consumption in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji and injection drug use in Brazil, a field study at the United Nations, and additional trips to Honduras and China. As a first-generation immigrant, Rasa believes that cultural competency, diversity, and advocacy are an integral part of medicine today and hopes to spread these values through her other passions of the medical humanities and the spoken word.
In college, we were at the top of our class, the winners of scholarships and awards, the leaders of campus organizations. We were the ones our classmates looked up to and the names our teachers used as examples. We worked hard, and, rightfully, those efforts always delivered results: good grades; good MCAT scores; and, finally, medical school admission.
In medical school, things don't work out this way. Working hard and being smart are no longer enough. Why? Because everyone works hard and is just as smart as you are. Medical school takes the top students of every class and puts us all together. Naturally, we can't all still be the best.
I knew this. However, as the anatomy course started, I couldn't help but feel like I was so behind everyone else. Through bone labs and small group sessions, I started realizing that none of my classmates was like me. It seemed as if all of them had a significant background in anatomy already, either a master's, a TA position, or undergraduate coursework experience. Was I the only one who had zero experience? In class, my self-confidence plummeted. My classmates were answering questions from yesterday's lecture while I was barely reviewing the lecture from last week. Why was I not getting this? Why was I different?
Because of my lack of experience, I spent double to triple the amount of time in the cadaver lab as my more-experienced classmates. During those times, I started seeing the same 10 to 15 students. They were doing just as many tutoring sessions, just as many early mornings, and just as many late nights. I saw them in the library, like me, with deep-set, sleep-deprived eyes and multiple coffee mugs. And although we weren't friends, I felt a connection with these classmates—as if maybe, just maybe, they were feeling like I was.
At the end of week 2, on one of those Saturday 7:00 p.m. cadaver nights, I asked one of my classmates if she wanted to study together; after all, we were the only two in the lab. As we memorized and tested each other on the muscles of the upper limb, we shared stories about how tough the past 2 weeks had been for each of us. I felt shocked. The words coming out of her mouth were the same ones I had shared with my mom just a few nights before. “I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I belong here.” Like me, she, too, was feeling the first symptoms of impostor syndrome.
The truth is that we do belong here. I went to graduate school, and she graduated at the top of her class. Somewhere along the line, we lost sight of these strengths. However, that night, through our discussion, she helped me rediscover mine and I believe I helped her do the same.
Over our tank, we made a pact to not compare our journey to those of others. We promised that we would remind each other of this in times of doubt and fear—and to never forget what a privilege it is to work with the human body.
Through this experience, I gained a lot more than a vast knowledge about the anatomy of the human body. I gained an intense and deep-rooted gratitude for its fragility; an appreciation for its variety; and a humble realization of the orchestra that happens inside every single one of us, every day—the orchestra of systems that allows us to breathe, taste our favorite foods, sing at the top of our lungs, dance at our weddings, and feel emotion. Seeing the complexities of a body made me feel moved in a way that textbooks never could.
I reminded myself every day that this was someone's father, someone's child, someone's lover.
As I look back now, a month away from completing my first year of medical school and with 10 months of anatomy under my belt, I recognize I was wrong. It was not a curse that I didn't have any anatomy experience coming into medical school; it was a really special learning opportunity. I am walking away today as a more empathetic physician. At my core, I see the values of treating my patients with care, understanding, compassion, patience, and recognition—and meeting each of my patients where they are. Because one day, this made all the difference for me.
Rasa Rafie, MS, OMSII
Master's in Science in Global Medicine
Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Graduating Class of 2022