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Before starting medical school, I had the opportunity to travel
to Japan and visit an array of Buddhist cities peppered with
ancient temples and samurai villages. As I explored these
breathtaking communities, I discovered the samurai's commitment to
the pursuit of perfection in lifestyle and skill. Now, as I face
the challenges of being a medical student, I find myself turning to
the canon of the samurai.
The samurais dedicated themselves to perfection in all aspects
of their existence. Attaining perfection was considered an
expectation prior to death. The ancient samurai warriors expended
their efforts in daily training until they mastered a new task.
After samurais acquired a skill through countless hours of work, it
was consistently polished. From eating rice to the art of shooting
a bow and arrow, the journey toward perfection was not an event but
rather a way of life.
Time is a precious commodity to us as medical students. Our time
is consumed with a range of activities, including creating
outlines, tracing biochemical pathways, and reviewing flashcards.
Many of us also have to somehow fit in quality moments with family
and friends. It often seems that there are not enough hours in the
day to finish what we have set out to do.
Although we may never be perfect doctors because of our human
fallibility, I think it is important to strive for
perfection in our skill. This is where we can turn to the samurai
The samurai warrior was committed, patient, and perseverant. But
above all else, the samurai knew the secret to balancing life's
I had the special privilege of researching this balance during
my stay in the samurai village. I came across and was fascinated by
historical accounts written by highly respected leaders. These
leaders instructed their fellow warriors to "unstring" their
longbows while they were not training.
The purpose of this command was to preserve the spring and
effectiveness of the bow. If the samurai warriors did not unstring
their bows both literally and figuratively, they risked losing the
physical and mental stamina to reach their goal.
Samurais inserted rejuvenating activities into daily routines to
practice "unstringing" their bows. I believe this lesson of
"unstringing your bow" is also the key to success as a medical
student, resident, and physician.
When I started medical school, I felt like I could barely keep
my head above water. I studied an average of 14 hours a day, 7 days
a week. I felt like I needed to sacrifice my sleep and exercise to
excel academically. I looked for ways to gain an extra minute here
or there to study.
I never took the time to figuratively unstring my bow. I was
able to maintain this imbalanced lifestyle during the first
semester in medical school. I quickly learned, however, that this
grueling schedule was actually negating my ability to endure.
During my second semester, I made it my personal mission to
emulate the balanced lifestyle of a samurai warrior. I still
dedicated my day to learning and mastering medical science
concepts. Contrary to my first semester, however, I forced myself
to occasionally "unstring my bow."
This proved to be quite difficult in the beginning. The first
time that I took a break from studying, I decided to walk down the
study hall. In these few minutes, I remember passing window after
window full of medical students diligently working. I thought that
I was doing myself a disservice and creating an unnecessary
As my experiment unfolded, I limited my break to jogging up and
down the stairs of the study hall. These breaks were brief, and I
immediately returned to my windowless room to continue my studies.
Little by little, I was learning to unstring my bow.
I soon found it more productive to totally leave my study
environment. I started choosing activities, such as hiking, biking,
exploring, skiing, visiting friends, cooking, and exercising. It
rapidly became apparent that completely unstringing my bow had
several life-changing benefits.
My mind opened with clarity to study. I found myself enjoying
medical school more than I ever thought possible. Innovative ideas
burst into my thoughts, helping me in leadership positions,
volunteer activities, and clinical experiences. Overall, because I
learned to unstring my bow, I became a much better medical student,
health provider, and person.
Unstringing my bow allowed me to savor moments instead of simply
letting them pass by. Because I made this choice, I recognized the
richness that life has to offer. I also now understand that,
despite facing challenging experiences, we can live happily.
The samurai warriors' constant pursuit of perfection in their
craft and lifestyle has inspired me to become an improved medical
student. In many ways, Japan is still at the forefront of my
thoughts. It has been an honor to walk beside the samurai warrior
in my journey toward medical professional perfection.
University of Utah
School of Medicine
Class of 2017
October 2014 Issue of IMpact
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