Tutoring is the most selfish thing I do. This probably sounds counterintuitive, but let me explain.
To state the obvious, medical school is hard. You spend four years pushing yourself to the limit of your comfort zone. For two years, you cram more information into your brain than it can hold (and most of it leaks back out). Then for the next two years, you chameleon your way from one clinical rotation to the next, hoping that you’ve done enough to convince people that you’re not entirely incompetent (just a little). This training process is exhausting, and at times, it can also be downright demoralizing. I recall several days on the wards when the only soundtrack that my mind played was “This is impossible. You’re never going to measure up, so why don’t you just give up now?”
In short, medical training has felt like four years of the message “you are inadequate” on repeat. As much as I want to be the person who can soak up the mountain of constructive feedback that I’ve received and use it solely for my own betterment, I’m not yet this enlightened. (This will take decades of additional therapy to even approximate.)
So I tutor. As a tutor, I prioritize identifying and highlighting my students’ strengths. So often, all they can see are their own shortcomings and the reasons that they may not be successful. My job is to honor and hold space for these feelings while simultaneously helping them see the version of themselves that I see. There is nothing more gratifying than watching someone slowly but assuredly navigate the journey from “I can’t do this” to “Well, actually, I think I’ve got this,” knowing that you were a catalyst in this transformation.
When people become discouraged, I remind them that they are so much more than a test score or ratio of green checkmarks to red Xs in UWorld. I reflect back on the wonderful qualities they’ve shown me–their kindness, compassion, courage, perseverance, and empathy–that will undoubtedly make them phenomenal physicians.
Of course, not every tutoring session is this idyllic. Some days are hard, and I leave feeling like I’ve let my students down. However, more times than not, I leave these Zoom calls feeling hopeful and encouraged. Because for those two hours, I felt like I offered something of value to the world. I felt like enough.
But perhaps even more importantly, it’s impossible to spend multiple hours helping someone see their own strengths without recognizing the irony in often not seeing your own. While I struggle to take my own advice, collateral absorption of my own wisdom (if you can even call it that) appears to be a side door in.
So to every student I’ve worked with, please accept my sincerest thank you for your time, energy, and engagement. You probably didn’t know it at the time, but you played an integral role in getting me through medical school. I will soon have the privilege of displaying the letters “MD” behind my name, and this would not have been possible without each and every one of you.
Michelle Ikoma is a medical student.
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