Mama M: First Gen Striving for Excellence

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dear Mama M,

As I have navigated through medical school, I have witnessed that some know the “unspoken secrets” of excelling in medical school more than others.As a first-generation college—and now medical—student, I sometimes find that I do not know the hidden curriculum behind professional schools. What is your advice on how to excel during professional school as someone who might not come from the pomp and glamour of an educated family and the breeding for academia that it seems to provide?


Dearest Striving,

Congratulations on being the change agent in the groove of your family! So many people take it for granted that they will be educated because other generations have laid that foundation. So, you, Sugar, are the light figure … the pioneer. And while your colleagues may have some “unspoken secrets” handed down from the familial Ivory Tower, you own the spoken reality of forging new ground.

My best advice to you is to acknowledge yourself and your own inherent value. Practice trusting that you have all the wisdom, magic and secrets you need to move through the exciting and deeply challenging journey that you have embarked on.

We both know that it will not be easy … you have no family reference points to fall back on with regards to Medical School. But, I do not think you are alone in feeling alienated.  I found this definition in a medscape article for the hidden curriculum that you might find interesting:

“The hidden curriculum: Even if medical students haven’t heard the term, no doubt they’re keenly aware of what it is—the pressure to conform, the focus on pleasing superiors—in short, the unofficial rules for survival and advancement. It’s a powerful undercurrent that can turn even the most self-assured and altruistic student into an obedient drone.”

If you focus on trying to learn the content of the hidden curriculum you will lose sight of being the doctor you want to be. It is emotionally draining to be preoccupied with what you believe you don’t know. Don’t be a drone. Be you.

You have wonderfully different access points to the portals of knowledge and wisdom. Your portal is informed by your own unique experiences.

I grew up in a super chaotic, spinning wild world of contradictions and craziness. I am not the first to go to college, but I am one of the few.  I have learned that though I have no access to any particular hidden curriculum, I do have access to some crazy-assed stories that have made me far more compassionate, intuitive and trusting of my own inner curriculum.

I hope you settle into your own bones and let go of chasing the ghost of the hidden curriculum. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. The only curriculum that matters is the one that teaches you to be you.

Strive On. Love, Mama M.