The most recent rephrasing of the term “burnout” is “compassion fatigue”.  At least that’s what they’re calling it among medical professionals.  But I don’t think that’s exactly what I’m feeling.  In fact, I’m certain that it’s not, because I haven’t interacted with very many patients yet.  No, I’m just fatigued.  Compassion has nothing to do with it.

I feel like I could, right now, quit school and be adequately satisfied.  I just finished my second year of medical school and now I’m off to PhD-land to work for the next 4 to 5 years. Before starting in the lab, though, I have the USMLE Step 1 exam.  This is likely one of the most important exams of my life and I should be preparing more than I am, but I feel kind of numb to the urgency.  It’s as if I’ve accepted that a small improvement in my test score isn’t worth the quantity and rigor of the effort required.

I’ve kind of checked out.  And my feelings are even further complicated by my final exam scores that I just received today.  I passed, which is all that matters in the end.  But my score was substantially lower than what I had expected.  This is more of an ego bruise than anything.  I felt like I had done reasonably well.  Getting a low score puts questions into my mind about whether I really know what I’m doing.  (But if you ask any seasoned physician they’d say that no second year really knows what she/he is doing yet.  Somehow that’s not comforting.)  It shook my confidence.  But despite the sting, this is probably good for me.  The last thing this world needs is more overconfident medical students.

Back to PhD-land…

I have a meeting this afternoon with my new mentor.  He’s a strong scientist, an MD/PhD grad, and a nice guy.  But I’m nervous that I have little to discuss with him.  I’ve set up email alerts for papers in certain subjects, but so far that’s as far as I’ve gone.  I haven’t really read any of the papers.  I have ideas, but they’re very broad.  None of them are appropriate thesis ideas.

Since I’m just venting, and this is terribly uninteresting to read, I’ll get to some point…

Bottom line:  I’m stuck in a difficult place right now.  The path of my classmates and friends is diverging from my path.  I’m uncomfortable with mediocrity (even when it’s adequate), but I lack the time, energy, and will to achieve anything more than the minimum required right now.  I guess that’s kind of what burnout is.  My passion for this stuff has faded from a bright flame to a tiny glowing ember.  I really need to find some gas to pour on and start up the fire again.  Tricky part is… if I throw too much on too fast it smothers the ember.  What I need is not too much, not too little, but juuuuuust enough.

That’s another phrase I’ve heard thrown around lately: the “Goldilocks effect”.  My, aren’t we clever.  (forgive the sarcasm)