The Balance Beam

29 Apr 2022

By Sara Ashai

There are days where everything goes wrong, but there are also days where everything goes right. Most days, we sit somewhere in the middle. Our voice stays quiet some days, some days it wants to yell, and some days our voice yells at ourselves.

When I was a first year medical student, I was quiet. I came straight through undergrad and was one of the youngest in the class. I felt scared to speak up. I came into medical school wanting to do psychiatry. Interpersonal skills with patients are one of my strengths and I was passionate about mental health, so I thought psychiatry fit that scheme. As the first year continued, I spoke to residents who told me that there was a need for more Pakistani women to go into OB/GYN or any surgical field. Thus, I considered it quietly. Never did I consider myself to be a surgeon or even interested in it. 

Before my OB/GYN rotation started in October of 2021, I had a meeting with my research mentor, who is a South Asian urologist. I expressed to her how I feel as if my “personality” does not mesh. She responded saying, “I think it’s only in your head.” She was right, it was only in my head. I then mustered up the courage to speak up. During my OB/GYN rotation, I used my voice to express my interest. I used my voice to volunteer to do extra nights than required. I used my voice to ask to talk to attendings about OB/GYN life. Initially, I was scared to do this. I had thoughts in my head telling me “they are too busy” and “what if they say no.” But what if they say no? 

Our thoughts prevent us from taking risks because of fear of failure. You have to let it go. 

If you feel like this, make a list of all the times you take a risk and note the outcomes. Each time you take a risk, ie. use your voice to talk to an attending or ask to work on a project, you will develop a piece of your voice. 

Your voice will become stronger. 

The power of our voice is so much stronger than we can imagine. In a world in which social media is dominant and becoming the platform to network, it can be overwhelming for those who are quieter. Two years ago, I did not believe I could be a surgeon. My voice was diminished. But, you cannot convince anyone else that you are capable of being a surgeon until you believe that yourself.

In order to do that, turn to the thing that keeps you going when all else fails. For all those struggling with that voice inside your head, you can print out your clinical evaluations through your 3rd year and post them on your mirror for validation every morning.  I know it sounds silly to write down good things about yourself but it’s true. If you tell yourself you’re okay, you will be okay. Your voice and thoughts are on opposite ends of a balance beam. When your voice falls down, your thoughts purge your brain. When your voice is too high, you just talk with no thought. The goal is to be right in the middle. For those first- and second-year medical students, figure out where your weaknesses lie and work on those.

When I was a first year medical student, I was quiet. I had lost my voice. I had lost my standing. For me, writing helped me rebuild my voice. I encourage every incoming medical student to find that medium that allows you to find and re-find your voice because when everything else goes awry, that medium will be your balance beam.

Sara Ashai is a fourth year medical student at The University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is originally from Dallas, TX and attended The University of Texas at Austin, where she studied biology. She is planning to apply into OB/GYN and is very passionate about encouraging minority women to go into surgical fields. Her hobbies include: bullet journaling, spin classes at her local spin studio in Baltimore, and spending time with her family. Twitter handle- @saraashai

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and, as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

Leave a Reply

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