While sitting in class the other day, I had a profound realization. The lecturing professor asked us, “what do ptosis, miosis and anhydrosis make you think abou-“, and before he could finish his question the entire room responded, as if pre-programmed and poorly orchestrated, “Horner Syndrome.” I was one of those voices. I felt robotic, and I got the sense that my classmates felt the same way. In that moment I became painfully aware of the fact that we’re all being trained in the exact same way, and learning the exact same information. Then I got to thinking about a few years ahead; when I graduate medical school and begin residency in the specialty of my choosing, I will be training alongside other medical school graduates who learned that exact same information, and are equally honing in their skills to become more specialized in their care. When I complete my residency (or fellowship), I will become one of thousands of practicing physicians in a certain specialty that are all trained in the same way, and possess (largely) the same skill set.

This may seem like the obvious progression of our training to most who entered medical school knowing full well the journey that lied ahead, but I never truly appreciated it until I joined into the chorus of responses to that professor’s prompt. With such stringent repetition, specialized training and a seemingly uniform approach to the application of medicine I wondered how on earth we’re supposed to see ourselves as different from one another. Sure, we all bring our unique characteristics to our medical school classes, our residencies and our teams, but what really distinguishes us? For example, if I completed my residency in Emergency Medicine and became one of the over 40,000 Emergency Medicine physicians in the United States, what allows me to provide unique care to my patients and separate myself from my peers?

After that moment in the classroom, I decided to dedicate time and energy towards answering that question, with one simple goal in mind: don’t graduate medical school to be just another physician.

The habits you form now tend to follow you throughout your career, and this time is especially important for determining not only what type of professional you want to be, but how you will bring something to your practice that others simply cannot. I decided to work on figuring out what my strengths are, to dedicate my time to projects that I really care about and to create a large network for myself in an effort to grow professionally and to work on those certain qualities that I believe will set me apart from my peers. This is how I want to ensure that I don’t become another cog in the machine, another composite photo on the wall of physicians wherever I practice. I will be the only physician like me, but the path to get there has to start here.