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The Most Common Disease Among Physicians, and How to Fight It

As medical students, we have the unique experience of jumping from service to service or specialty to specialty. The good students will embrace the opportunity to be constantly challenged to evolve in their thinking and their doing. However, often times, the experience of one week here, two weeks there, four weeks somewhere else can be a bit awkward.

In those last two weeks on psychiatry, a resident or attending may confide in us students about “how awful those terrible surgeons are.” Your next rotation may be to join ‘those terrible surgeons’ for four or more weeks of general surgery. How do we reconcile this? How do we maintain our ability to be a confidant for our current team of residents and attendings, while not being brought down by the potentially offensive comments one service may make in regards to another service?

Being a medical student is being the proverbial fly on the wall. We hear all things and we see all things, whether those things should be heard or seen. And unfortunately, many of those things are negative. So, what do we do? How do we shield ourselves from truly the most common disease among physicians — a disease I like to refer to as “everyone-else-but-this-specialty-sucks-itis?”

My advice? Don’t buy in!

You don’t have to become negative to bond with your negative resident. You also don’t have to say how terrible surgeons are so that your psychiatry resident will like you. Let the other individual get their venting session all out on the table, and then move on. A good response is something like, “Yeah, they (name other specialty) haven’t been working with us that well with this patient, but we can just continue to try to do our part for the patient and see how we can help them (other specialty) do theirs.” Listen to your resident or attending. Let them be heard. But don’t perpetuate the negativity.

Think about the happiest residents, attendings and other students you know. Are they the ones who constantly have terrible things to say about other physicians and services in the hospital? Usually not. Sure, we all have our moments where venting is necessary so we don’t go crazy, but the happiest people — the ones I always want to work with the most—are the ones who have somehow found a way to rise above the negativity and not become jaded.

Talk to them. Find out their secrets. Hint: one of them is to not buy in, to rise above, and to direct your attention elsewhere. Another? Let yourself geek out!

You are a nerdy, geeky, science freak. Sorry, it’s just the truth. The fact that you know the pathway of collagen synthesis or the criteria for diagnosing SIRS and sepsis makes the likelihood that you are officially classified as a nerd extremely high. I apologize if this is a major realization for you, but I suspect that most of you have already long come to terms with the magnitude of your inner geek. So, when it comes to those clerkships or electives, or general hard work in the hospital, allow yourself the pleasure of stopping to say, “hey this is really cool!” It’s okay to do that!

If you let yourself get excited about everything that interests you throughout your medical training, you will find that it’s hard to be negative all the time. You will naturally swing the other way — towards happiness and positivity, and ultimately, towards better care for your patients.

How many of you have heard an older physician tell you a story about some case they saw 20 plus years ago? Now, keep your hands up people. How many of those stories happened when that physician was in medical school or residency? That is pretty much where we are now! Let yourself recognize those same unusual zebras, those emotional family experiences, those moments during our training that make us say, “wow this is actually the best freaking job in the whole world.”

Don’t buy in. Instead, geek out! Really, you will never regret it.

Kathryn Rachel Morrison Kathryn Rachel Morrison (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine

Katie is a Class of 2016 medical student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, OH. She is originally from Columbus, OH and attended college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. She is engaged to a 4th year HPSP student, who has matched to Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD in Internal Medicine. Katie hopes to join him in the D.C. area the following year.

  • Owain Blackwood

    Great article- makes some interesting points about inclusiveness, avoiding antagonistic tribalism, and treating medicine as something that can be enjoyed.