Another late post.  I had a big exam on Monday so last week I was pretty swamped.  Although I was used to heavy workloads from undergrad, medical school is quite different from what Harvey Mudd College trained me for.  No calculus?  No mathematical proofs?  No mass-on-a-spring-model-applied-to-every-other-problem?  What happened to 10-hr problem sets?  Now it’s all about gazillions of PowerPoint slides to study and understand on your own time.  Also, at Harvey Mudd, no matter how hard I studied some questions I couldn’t solve because I just wasn’t clever enough.  Here at Rosalind Franklin University, I think I can master everything … if I had about two or three times the amount of time.  Different kind of education, different kind of variables in play.  The only constant is the immense amount of pressure.

For those of you who know me, I’m one of the calmest people I know.  However, once in a while even I get anxious.  Sunday morning was one of those moments.  I was a bit behind in studying and I guess my slow brain finally processed through that fact on Sunday morning.  I was pretty anxious and didn’t have an appetite.

Thank God for Sundays though.  Of course, the pastor’s sermon that day had nothing to do with what I was going through (still a good message though, pastor), but God was already doing work in me before I even arrived at church.

The strange thing about it was the dissonance between my head and heart.  The first 2 years of med school here is graded Pass/Fail, exactly to prevent neurotic (and even non-neurotic, like me) medical students from exploding under pressure.  Also, even if I failed the biochemistry part of the exam (which was the subject I was most anxious about), as long as I don’t fail the overall class, I would be fine.  My brain knew all this plus more reasons why I shouldn’t be anxious, and I kept telling it to myself, expecting my rationale to triumph over my emotions, as per usual.  Then why was my heart still so anxious?

I realized that the stress wasn’t really about the exam or about bio-freaking-chemistry.  It was actually the fear of sucking.  What if my sub-excellent performance in school prevents me from getting into a good residency program?  What if my suckage in biochem leads me down the road to serious big-time suckage in providing adequate care for patients?  What if I disappoint my family and friends, who think I’m smart?  What if my peers start to pity me for my terrible study habits?  Most importantly, what if I can’t ever be good enough for my own standards?

But what Christianity makes it clear is that God’s love and mercy is independent of our performances.  That’s a central message that’s taught in churches everywhere all the time, but something that I need to come to terms with again and again.  It’s difficult because I don’t have that kind of love and grace on myself.  I totes judge myself on being cool and awesome at thing I do; and I totes pride myself in my usual calm and peaceful nature.  So when those things start to fall away just as the cookie crumbles, I don’t like it.

That’s my pride talking, though: the need to feel good about myself for not only winning at life, but also looking pretty while doing it.  God has a different narrative though: my value as a human being is independent of my victories and usefulness to the world.  Despite society being what it is, I know God’s narrative is true because nobody who’s ever loved me has said “I like you because you’re good at [fill in the blank].”

Only halfway through church service, I was already done being anxious.  Bio-freaking-chemistry was to have no pressure on me anymore.  This is not to say God miraculously taught me biochemistry (that would have been nice though),  or that I flipped the table and said, “To Mordor with med school!”  I still had to study hard that afternoon and get help from my friends.  God would have known that I wasn’t actually stressed about the exam.  He always knows the true diagnosis that’s not apparent from the surface.  Instead he helped me be brave in the face of possible/probable(?) suckage.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  I think biochemistry actually went alright.  But Clinical Molecular Cell Biology though…