Skip to content

The Power of Gratitude as a Medical Student

  • by
"the power of gratitude as a medical student" over image of sunset

Goal: Discuss overcoming obstacles through changing your perspective and Good Will Hunting references.

The night before returning to my second semester of college I was sitting on the couch crying to my dad.  After an amazing three weeks with family for Winter Break, the homesickness I had been suffering throughout the fall semester came to a head.  Starting this new chapter of my life 800 miles away in Alabama was more challenging than I imagined and it wasn’t until that moment I realized how desperately I wanted to be closer to home.  For years I envisioned the joy and success I would find at college, yet the reality was I only had a few friends, none of whom I shared classes with, and club opportunities I had been so excited about had passed me up.  But with school resuming in just two days it was far too late to transfer to another university, and as a transfer student I would not be eligible for my previously earned scholarships.  Knowing my only real choice was to go back to Alabama made me sob harder.

Winter 2013 Kara trying to assemble a mini trampoline because she was an “engineer”, I should note that shortly after this endeavor I changed from a chemical engineering major to just chemistry.

As my dad tried to comfort me, he brought up a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting.  If you have not seen this movie (which you should absolutely watch immediately) I will set the scene:  Matt Damon is a janitor at MIT who solves a really hard math problem, lots of people realize he is a genius, and Matt Damon receives many offers to work at important companies which would allow him to rise above his current station.  However Matt Damon turns the offers down to continue drinking with his blue collar friends due to his unconscious need to avoid future failure and emotional pain.  The scene my dad refers to is when Matt Damon’s friend, Ben Affleck, tells Matt the best part of Ben’s day is the few minutes when he pulls up to Matt’s house and thinks that maybe Matt is not here because he finally moved on to something greater.  Ben Affleck tells Matt Damon he owes it to his friends to take advantage of the amazing opportunities he now has even if it means leaving his friends behind because they will never be able to have those same opportunities, no matter how badly they might want them.  My dad used this scene to illustrate how lucky I am to have these opportunities and how even though I love my family and want to spend more time with them, they will always be there for me wherever I go.  It was more important to focus on what I had, rather than what I did not.

image from:

What my dad did not know when he gave me that advice was how many other factors were weighing on me that also applied to his story.  I thought of my high school friend’s brother who passed away right before break due to chronic health problems.  He was brilliant and caring.  I don’t know if he would have wanted to become a physician, but I know despite being capable of doing so, he will never have the chance.  I thought of a different classmate from high school who so desperately wanted to become a doctor and I remembered feeling inspired by his passion for medicine, reading medical textbooks FOR FUN.  Unfortunately he struggled immensely academically and was not able to jump through all of the academic hoops required to become a doctor.  I thought of my friends who struggled to balance school work while also keeping a job to help finance their education. Focusing on what I thought was lacking in my life was all I was able to see and prevented me from focusing on my gratitude for what I had.

Fortunately, I returned to my university, and just two weeks into the new semester I realized I had truly found my footing and went on to love the remaining years at Alabama.  While my journey to becoming a future physician has included much more challenging obstacles since the Winter of 2013, the advice I received from my dad has helped shape my motivation and mindset while pursuing my goals.  Even when I face hardships I am lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to grow and succeed.  I believe it is important to stay grateful for all of these experiences, good and bad, because I know other friends, family members, and acquaintances who fiercely desire the same experiences, may never enjoy them.

My dad and I this past summer basking in all of our gratitude

Being a physician is an essential job in our society; they can improve the wellbeing of our communities.  It can be one of the greatest jobs in the world!  I challenge anyone who wants to go into the healthcare field or is already serving in it to always keep a space for gratitude.  We are on a path that few get to travel, there is a reason becoming a doctor is challenging, so it is our duty to respect it.  I don’t mean to imply that you should ignore any frustrations or keep blind optimism when life is knocking you down, rather acknowledge the challenge and then recognize what you already possess to move forward. While studying for hours day after day, already feeling low and knowing that the road only gets harder, I think of that night on the couch with my dad, knowing I am making him and others proud of me for taking these amazing opportunities. I am thankful for the growth this path has already provided me, and look forward to all that is yet to come.

Hot Tip: Keep a gratitude journal. This is a great way to infuse your day with a little positive energy, even if it is a bummer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *