After eight years of endless work, today was the day I became a licensed physician.
Well, technically I would only have the diploma in hand. There were still a few more hurdles to jump before I could even sit down to take the final licensing exam to practice medicine on my own. But the extra four years to complete my internship and residency felt like dust in the wind; time was sort of folding in on itself in my head. I couldn't believe it—I was going to be a doctor.
Wriggling with excitement, I sprang out of bed and promptly collapsed on my dorm floor in an ungraceful pile of limbs. I groaned and slowly got up, wincing and rubbing my head. Dammit. It was a good thing I'd taken dad's advice and steered clear of a surgery subspecialty. With my luck I'd wind up slicing through a major artery and watching in horror as my patient bled out on the table.
One of my four roommates pounded on my door while I carefully picked my way through the clothes strewn across my floor. They were all fairly organized but I was so obsessed with studying that I hardly bothered to keep my part of our townhouse looking pretty. I braced myself on the wall and yanked open the door to greet whatever one of my friends wanted to share in the excitement.
Zoe was on me in a flash of green pajamas and she hoisted me off the floor, whirling me around in a bear-hug. "We're doctors, Genny! We're all gonna be doctors today!"
I'd been friends with Zoe since day one of undergrad, when we both awkwardly shuffled into our biology 101 class. It was an opposites attract sort of friendship—she was tall and boisterous while I was short and much more… 'unassuming'. That was what dad called it, but I couldn't decide if it was an insult.
"I know!" I squealed, hopping up and down in place when she set me back on the floor. "Where's everyone else? Starting to get ready? I got my gown and everything prepped weeks ago."
It was black with three green stripes on the arms and a green scarf I had to drape around my neck. Nevada State University had a strange color scheme that I wasn't entirely fond of. I'd winced the entire time I ironed the gown and hung it up in my closet for safekeeping with my hat and tassels.
Zoe stepped back and dramatically flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder. "From now on everyone will address me as Dr. Zoe Gregoire. When waitresses ask what name to put my reservation under, I'll proudly tell them 'Oh, that would be Doctor Zoe Gregoire."
"You're so humble," I laughed, leaning on my doorframe. "We're not out of the woods yet, so be careful throwing that title around."
"Four more years, Gen! You'll be an internist and I'll be a pediatrician."
We chatted for a while about our plans like we had done a thousand times before. Zoe and I were the only two in our townhouse who were staying in the area and interning at a local hospital: St. Luke's. It was a modern place that took in complicated cases from all over Nevada and even a few from out of state. We'd be together for the first year during our internship but after that she would go on to shadow for her specialty and I would go on to my own.
Zoe skipped off to clean up her room and I slipped back inside mine to do the same. Dad was going to bring me straight home after the ceremony so I had to make sure everything was packed and ready within a couple of hours. I ran a hand through my long auburn hair and turned in circles, intimidated by the mess around me. Maybe dad could help me out.
Thankfully, Zoe finished packing and came back to help me fifteen minutes after she left. We laughed over memories and talked about how exciting our internship would be until I got a little too emotional and had to stop before I burst into tears. It was tiny but it held so many great moments: the first time I had sex, for instance. That had been more of a miss than a hit.
Our three other roommates, Kayla, Astrid, and Naomi, came home an hour after Zoe and I had started on my room. They had all come from New York City together and intended on returning to finish their internships and residencies. We shared more memories and at that moment, I was happy enough to burst. I knew the final stretch would be hard but I couldn't wait to begin.
Everything was said and done by one o' clock and we got dressed. There were giggles and nervous practiced handshakes and we double-checked each other's gowns a hundred times. We got a group picture before we left and piled into Zoe's SUV, chucking all of my belongings in the trunk that would return to Sparks with me.
NSU was an enormous school and the graduation ceremony was taking place in a rented auditorium about ten minutes from the main campus. The place was already crawling with people when we got there and it took me another twenty minutes to find a parking spot. It was surprisingly balmy for a May afternoon in Nevada and I hurried after the girls, a bit warm in my gown, to find my dad.
The man who had single-handedly raised me was waiting outside the main doors with his hands in his pockets. Dad was 60 but he hardly looked it—we had a running joke where I asked him who he bought his immortal potion from. He had some grey in his hair but aging had thusfar been kind to him. He beamed proudly when I leapt on him, wrapping my arms around his neck.
"The day is finally here, Genny," he said, embracing me tightly. "Your mother would be so happy."
"I've cried enough today, daddy," I muttered. I held his hands and took a deep breath. "I bet she wouldn't be happy if she saw the student loans I have."
Dad chuckled, shrugging. "The price you pay for greatness. Besides, your residency should pay you."
"Probably minimum wage… We've got another decade before I'm making any kind of money."
We reconnected with the girls and I hugged Zoe's parents fiercely, ecstatic to see them. It was perfect. All of my friends had graduated and soon, we'd all be saving lives.
The ceremony was a blur. It was kind of dark in the auditorium and I was so petrified that I couldn't focus on what the speaker was saying. Fans whirred around us, trying to keep the place from turning into a stifling deathtrap, and Zoe kept cracking her knuckles. I vaguely remembered stumbling out on stage to take my diploma and managing a smile for the quick picture they snapped.
And that was that. I trembled when Zoe took some pictures of me with dad, and I started crying again when all five of us girls gathered together with our diplomas. Dr. Genevieve Nichols wasn't officially in business, but in four more years she would be diagnosing and treating her own patients.
It was the last time I would see my other three friends, but Zoe and I were set to move into our apartment just outside Spring Valley in a month. I'd saved enough from working odd jobs during school for the first month or two of rent but after that I would depend on my internship.
I stared blankly out the window of dad's truck on the long drive back to Sparks. Jesus Christ, I was actually a doctor. I kept looking at my diploma like the name or title might change but there it was in elegant script: Dr. Genevieve Noelle Nichols. Eventually they would let me take care of people and I would be on my own with only some liability insurance to protect me.
We moved all my things back into our small house in the middle of Sparks where I had been born and raised. In another month I would leave again and I didn't know if I would come back.
Dad hugged me again and congratulated me for the millionth time. He left to tell his friends from work about my graduation and to let our family in Pennsylvania know the good news as well. I stood alone in my childhood bedroom with all my belongings around me and folded my arms over my chest. I'd left the same room eight years ago, bright-eyed and bushy tailed with my heart set on helping people.
I swallowed hard. "First, do no harm."