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To be taken with a cauldron of salt

On his way to school, Harry found sheets of white velvet sprawled over the sidewalk. For a fleeting moment, Harry thought he was standing on a million specks of bird droppings – but then he noticed the white flowers in the tree outside his window.

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Sometime during his hibernation in the library, spring had arrived. Harry felt as if he had never seen so much green before – a luscious, deep green, carried within the tiniest buds dangling from the branches of winter. During his afternoon meetings, he would imagine himself diving into that green-ness, gulping down the sour whiff of mustard flowers, savoring the taste of rain.

Mount Gretna, PA

Mount Gretna, PA

Harry wished the pink flowers would remain on the trees forever, like brilliant bursts of sunrise scattered throughout the midday skyline. But everything was changing, and would continue to change.

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The previous second-year students had advanced to their third year of medical school. One day, they were poring over textbooks in the Hibernation Room of the library, preparing for their high-stakes board examinations. The next, they were dressed in mint-green scrubs, with white coats over their shoulders and hospital pagers clipped to their pockets.

The new first-years were preparing to arrive. The class forum bubbled with questions about textbooks, laptops, student life, and housing – and Harry found, to his surprise, that he knew the answers to these questions. It was a bizarre feeling.

In just a few weeks, Harry would become a second-year medical student.  When his non-medical friends asked him questions, he would no longer be able to respond with “I don’t know anything – I’m just a first-year medical student!” He was no longer an embryo in the vast world of medicine.

“Can you believe an entire year’s gone by?” Harry said to Ron and Hermione in the Great White Tent later that day.

“Yes,” said Ron.

“No,” said Hermione. “And that’s why I think we should draft a letter to the future first-year students of Hogwarts College of Medicine. No one remembers their first year of medical school more vividly than we do now.”

Harry fished out a fountain pen and a notebook from his book bag and set them on the table. Ron went first.

  1. Get involved with as many research projects, service activities, and student groups as you can during your pre-clinical years. Everyone in medical school has good grades, and for residency applications you’ll have to set yourself apart another way. – Ron

“I spent the first six months of medical school eating from noon until 6 pm, and studying and eating from 6 pm to 1 am,” Ron explained. “So that’s why I decided to get more active in the school community after New Year’s.”

“We all know you’re the president of twenty different student interest groups, Ron,” Hermione said.

“Who, me?” Ron raised an eyebrow. “Nah, just one interdisciplinary student group. That’s all.”

“Which reminds me – “ Hermione said.

  1. Explore as many different specialties as you can during your pre-clinical years. Go into each new field with an open mind. This is your chance to explore – to shadow heart transplants and C-sections, and delve into new fields you never knew existed, before you are responsible for a patient’s life. You’ll never have more time than you have now. Make it count; you’ll cherish the memories for years to come. – Hermione

Harry wrote:

  1. Find a way to keep yourself human throughout medical school. Something unique about you – whether it’s cooking, art, running, or creative writing. Schedule fifteen minutes of protected time every day for that hobby. – Harry

“I didn’t think I had much time for anything,” Harry said. “I was driven by my fear of flunking out of medical school. So I put off a lot of important things. Like taking a walk. Taking a nap. Taking out the trash. Picking my dirty socks off the floor of my bedroom. But in reality, I did have time for those, even on some of the stormiest days of our cardiology block.”

“I can translate all of that to Medical Studentese,” Ron said.

  1. Don’t take studying TOO seriously. Really. Not as a first-year medical student. You have the entire rest of your life to stress out to your heart’s content. Right now, just try not to fail any classes. When you’re short on time, don’t read anything you don’t intend to memorize. Take a nap instead. Read some cheesy YA fantasy novels. Eat chocolate. Chill. – Ron

“You know how I feel, mate?” Ron said. “Sometimes I can’t believe what just happened to us. It’s as if someone last year chucked a pre-med into the coin slot of a vending machine, and after a lot of grinding and whirring and sirens (because the old decrepit thing set off the smoke detectors) – a 2nd-year med student popped out of the space where the potato chips should have been. Just like that – zib, zab, zoob. Done. And now I can call myself a 0.25 MD.” He conjured a business card from his white coat pocket and presented it to Harry and Hermione.

Ronald Bilius Weasley, B.S., 0.25 MD.

President, Cosmetoneuroorthopedic Trauma Surgery Student Commitment Society

Hogwarts College of Medicine, Class of 2018

“Impressive.” Hermione checked her watch. “Just a little premature, Ronald. We’re not quite finished yet. We’re still 0.2375 MDs.”

In the meantime, Ron had already opened a map on his tablet and begun to plan his route to his next weekend getaway spot. Normally, Harry would have declined the offer to join such an outing, because he had loads of things to study for – all the pharmacology, pathology, physiology, and pathophysiology of urine – but that didn’t matter right now. He needed to see the last of the spring flowers.

“You know you’re in medical school,” muttered Harry, “when you see a town called Pottsville on the map and immediately think of tuberculosis.”

“Or cheesecake,” Ron added. “Yum.”

A year ago, if Harry had spied on his older self, he would have understood nothing. And a year from now… Harry could not imagine. It all seemed eons away, but Harry knew how wrong that was.

Their journey was just beginning. What would come, would come, and he would have to meet it when it did. Harry intended to savor every moment.

But for now, Harry stepped outside into the humid air. He felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last day of spring left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.