“Snap!” the line broke for the third time in a row. I could feel my heart starting to pound. My fingers were numb from the cold. I took a deep breath. Then I tried again.

At the time, I was a college student in Maine. It was 6 am at a river near my campus, 35 degrees, and my dad was standing next to me as we both waited for me to tie our flies on. My dad was visiting me, and I was ecstatic to take him fly fishing, a sport that I had recently learned. “Why am I having such a hard time tying this fly on?” I thought. Little did I know at the time I was trying to tie on 7x tippet for the first time when previously I had been using 4x, a much thicker monofilament.

Fast forward six years later. I stand in an operating room (OR), and the melodic beep of the heart monitor rings in my ear. My feet are numb from standing all day in the cold operating room. I pull the suture tight, and the skin does not pull together appropriately. My heart starts to race, my hands become sweaty underneath my plastic gloves, and suddenly it feels like the whole OR is watching my every move. I had practiced suturing so many times at home; why was I having difficulty bringing the skin together? I clipped the suture out and sheepishly looked at the exhausted intern across from me. “Having some trouble getting started?” she said. “Yes,” I replied, my eyes looking down with disappointment.

In college, I became an avid fly angler. I fell in love with the opportunity to be outdoors, the meditative nature of the sport, and the thrill of catching a fish. However, fly fishing is a sport with a considerable learning curve. At first, it was incredibly overwhelming: all the species of fish, the flies, casting, tying the knots, learning how to fish a river, how to hook a fish, land it, and set it free. Every fly angler knows the frustration of starting, making mistakes, getting numerous tangles, and losing fish. It’s hard. And yet something draws us back to the water. Slowly, over time, you improve. With fewer tangles, you can fish substantially more efficiently. You learn how to read the water to find the fishiest spots. Despite missing and losing fish, there are those magical days when it all comes together. You catch more fish than you can count. You feel a sense of accomplishment that is hard to articulate to people who don’t fish.

Recently, I have graduated from medical school. I have always found a similarity between fly fishing and medicine. Reflecting on the prior four years, I realize how accurate the analogies are between learning to fly fish and being a medical professional. When you start medical school, the amount of information and skills to learn is daunting and overwhelming. In medical school, they say that learning is like “drinking from a firehose.” Beyond the material, there is a massive learning curve within the hospital — mastering the culture of the wards, how to talk to patients, how to perform a physical exam, and how to do basic procedures.

I distinctly remember the clunkiness of when I first put on my fly-fishing waders and boots and rigged up my rod. Likewise, every medical student remembers their first time scrubbing in for an OR case, awkwardly trying to put the scrub gown and gloves on, and cautiously stepping around to avoid disrupting the sterile field.

I see so many parallels between fly fishing and medicine. As I end my four years of medical school, it is remarkable to look back at how far I have come. And yet, there is still so much more learning and growth to go (not to mention four years of residency training and possibly a fellowship year or two).

The learning never stops in medicine and surgery, as in fly fishing. There are always challenges and opportunities for improvement. But you stay patient, persistent, and put in the time. In that case, satisfaction and fulfillment are remarkably unique and meaningful — a gratification that is hard to capture in other areas of one’s life.

I look forward to a lifetime of learning from my patients, from my colleagues, and on the river.

About the Author

Grace Baldwin completed her undergraduate studies at Colby College in Maine, where she first learned to fly fish. She went on to Harvard Medical School, where she is in her final year, will go on to residency in Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. She enjoys fly fishing as much as time allows, particularly the boundless striped bass fishing opportunities in the Greater Boston area. At Colby College she started the Colby Fly Fishing Club which is alive and well today. In medical school, she has organized a few events connecting fly fishing physicians to medical students with the Greater Boston Trout Unlimited, South Coast Fly Casters, and COSTA 5 Rivers Program. She has also volunteered with Project Healing Waters and Casting for Recovery.

Check out the articles below:

Fighting The Blues

5 O’Clock on the Water: How to Make the ‘Liquid Smoke’ Cocktail With Lael Paul Johnson


  1. Great article. Do well in your continuing education. As a teacher of the visually impaired, we need excellent eye doctors!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.