The Odyssey of Medical School

One student’s perspective on how medical school, like the Hero’s Journey, is physically and psychologically transforming


The journey to pursue a career in medicine is an arduous undertaking that is not for the faint of heart. It is analogous to the journey of the hero, who receives a call to adventure and goes on his quest in pursuit of the holy grail. The concept of the Hero’s Journey was first presented by Joseph Campbell who researched the myths and legends of many cultures. Along this journey, the hero traverses the dimensions of time and space, overcomes obstacles, and is physically and psychologically transformed. In the end, the hero returns home, completely transformed, and elevated to a new status. The metaphorical odyssey of self-transcendence that the hero embarks on consists of three parts: the departure, the initiation, and the return. So how does this fit into our journey as medical students?

Well, if you ask any student at AUC why they decided to pursue a career in medicine, you’ll likely get a tale about how they experienced a moment or event that led them to want to become healers. Their story is the call to adventure and many students will continue to recite their epic, sparing no detail about what drives them, and what eventually brought them to AUC. The stories will range from having previous experience in the healthcare industry, family members who are physicians, or wanting to make a difference in their community. The stories, just like our diverse student body, will vary but the unifying theme is that AUC is a fundamental part of the journey and is providing us with the tools necessary to bring us one step closer to fulfilling our quest.

Once at AUC, we have now crossed the first threshold leaving the familiarity of the world we knew behind us and crossing the threshold into the realm of adventure. It is in this new world that the hero will spend time learning the surroundings, conquering foes, and making allies. As first semester students, we are immersed into a setting where a new language is spoken, a new rhythm is stressed, and we forge along adapting and understanding. By fifth semester, we are familiar with the ins and outs of the university, the faculty, and the island of Sint Maarten. We have made friends, encountered our own personal and figurative foes, and yet the journey continues, and we forge along.

Medical students, just like the hero, will face moments of self-doubt. It’s a natural part of the process where we question our worthiness and ability to move forward. I wish I could say that it only happens once during the journey, but it seems that with each step forward we continue to be tried and tested, time after time. But the hero is determined and resilient to move forward and complete his or her quest—becoming stronger with each step forward. Despite the mental obstacles that we self-impose and have to overcome, we achieve the greatest moments of clarity during the cathartic breakdowns.

The journey of medical school and beyond will continue far after our time here at AUC. Although the journey has just begun, and endless battles ensue, we must take a moment of introspection to acknowledge how far we have come and how much further we have to go. So, as the first set of midterms have officially ended, let’s remember that although the hero is on a solo quest, he or she will always find help when needed. The community of students, staff, and faculty at AUC is always available to guide and support us as we brave through each semester becoming wiser than the last.

So, let us continue forward with the bold determination to succeed in our medical pursuits so that we can revel in the fruits of our labor!