Symbols are an important concept in the world of human communication. Experienced virtually everywhere, and in every culture, symbols are used to express many different things. Philosophers trace the broader idea and use of symbolism back to ancient Greece as “something that stands for something else.” In fact, we can think of a symbol as a visual image or sign representing an idea…a deeper indicator of something transcendent or a hoped-for reality.
What is a Symbol?
Simply put, a symbol is a mark, sign or word that indicates or is understood as representing an idea, object or relationship. In fact, symbols help people go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between sometimes very different concepts or experiences. In many cases, symbols lead to a fusion, or union, a means of access to some greater truth.
Symbols are literally all around us. They are used in fine arts and literature, marketing, religion and in a host of other ways. Symbols are colors (black is often used to represent death or evil), objects (a chain can symbolize the coming together of two things), flowers (a rose for romance) or animals (the owl used to symbolize wisdom). Companies frequently use symbols to help customers connect with their products (such as the Nike “swoosh”) and religions have long used symbols to illicit emotions and reverence from adherents (such as the Christian cross or the Jewish Star of David).
In the world of healthcare, symbols are frequently used to denote wellbeing or crisis. The caduceus has long been a symbol of medicine just as an EKG wave sometimes symbolizes heart health. Also, each academic field of study has a color associated with it…medicine is green
Why Should Symbolism be Important to You?
So what does all of this have to do with premed students and how you effectively prepare for the application and admissions process? It is clear to almost everyone thinking of applying to medical school that the process is a difficult one. Hard work is required both inside and outside of the classroom. Studying, taking exams, volunteering, shadowing, completing the application, interviewing…they all require a significant degree of motivation, positive thinking, and dedication.
Sometimes, however, students get discouraged and risk losing the necessary drive to see themselves through the process. For example, it’s 3am and you keep trying to understand a concept in organic chemistry. How do you continue to effectively engage yourself in that effort when your mind and body just want to shut down and sleep? What if there was some symbol that you could look to…in order to remind yourself of the importance of the journey you are on?
Find a Symbol for Your Journey
I suggest that you reflect on your journey toward a career in healthcare thus far. Why do you want to go into medicine? What has led you to seek such a career? Be as specific as possible in reflecting on what initiated and has continued to motivate you in this effort. Then, find a tangible symbol with which you can connect. An object that you can look at to renew your dedication to the long and difficult journey. An object that will remind you of why you are studying organic chemistry in the first place. That will help you see your future.
Why don’t you find something…a tangible object…that can become a symbol of your future reality? Maybe it could be a stethoscope or a photo of your healthcare mentor that reminds you of the dream you have to become a physician. Hang that object in a prominent place in your world. Perhaps on the wall above your desk where you study. Or maybe on your bathroom mirror so that you see it every morning when you wake up and are preparing for your day. You could also hang that stethoscope from the rear view mirror in your car so that you see it on your way to class, the library or your shadowing experience.
Find a symbol that works for you. Use it to encourage yourself during the difficult times. Then use it to celebrate your successes!