Inside Stories: Medical Student Experiences

MSSC Inside Stories is an oral narratives project which invites medical students to share their experiences in medical school in the form of brief podcasts published and archived on in-Training. The project aims to provide a means of personal healing, self-realization and empowerment through the sharing and receiving of personal stories, as well as to cultivate community among students in the often isolating medical school environment.

The title Inside Stories reflects the project’s mission to encourage students to go inside themselves and bring forth things that often go unspoken. It also represents the inside look listeners are granted into the sometimes private, challenging and confusing experiences students may have.

If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact the curator, Annie Robinson, at

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An Introduction to Inside Stories

How can doctors-in-training take advantage of the distinct liberty they have to bond the patient Stephan, a fourth-year medical student in Cincinnati when interviewed and now an ophthalmology resident, reflects on how the art of connecting deeply with patients is not prioritized — but this can be remedied. He tells a story about a patient he met on his internal medicine rotation that illustrates how medical students are in a unique position to cultivate relationships in health care.

How can doctors-in-training support patients and colleagues who are transgender? Olivia, a third-year medical student in Chicago pursuing a career in facial reconstructive surgery, transitioned from male to female while she was applying to medical school. As one of the few openly trans medical students in the country, she speaks about the stereotypes and logistical challenges trans people confront in medicine. Olivia aspires to use her own experiences as a trans person in the medical system – as both consumer and provider – to positively impact others in similar positions.

How can doctors-in-training learn to have hard discussions with their patients? Will, a fourth-year medical student intending to become an internist, recounts two formative patient encounters he had during his third year. In the first, he learned from an attending physician and a man dying from cancer the challenges of determining when it’s time to end treatment. In the second, he realized a non-English speaking patient did not understand that she had lupus, and thus took the initiative to more effectively translate to her what the condition meant.

How can doctors-in-training incorporate wisdom from spiritual traditions into the delivery of health care? Rembrandt, a second-year medical student in Chicago, shares his exploration of how lessons from Christianity offer him insight into life’s big questions that arise in medicine.

How can doctors-in-training practice not just patient-centered, but family-centered medicine? Carissa, a graduating fourth-year medical student in Indianapolis intending to pursue an obstetrics and gynecology residency, shares the lessons she learned as a medical student when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

How can doctors-in-training effectively voice doubt and dissent in the medical school environment? Joji, a fourth-year medical student who plans to go into family medicine, describes the conflicts he has had with his school’s administration, and what it feels like to live in fear of dismissal.

How can doctors-in-training honor the experiences of patients’ family members? Tarik, a fourth-year medical student, shares the lessons she learned from an Egyptian man who served as the primary caregiver for his wife, who had advanced multiple sclerosis.

How can doctors-in-training build relationships with patients despite language barriers? Chelsea, a fourth-year medical student who will soon begin family medicine residency training in Boston, recalls the lessons she learned about the power of nonverbal communication from a patient she met while working in Rwanda.

How can doctors-in-training overcome feelings of inadequacy? Robert, a fourth-year medical student in Philadelphia hoping to become a pediatric dermatologist, discusses the benefits of exposing his vulnerabilities.

How can doctors-in-training foster intimate connections to keep their passion for medicine alive? Sara, a rising medical intern in physical medicine and rehabilitation, reflects on the community activities she engaged in during medical school that allowed joy and presence to be a central part of her educational experience.

How can doctors-in-training create balance in their lives and not let school define them? Jazmin, a fourth-year medical student in Galveston, Texas who intends to begin pediatric residency next year, discusses how important it was for her to not solely identify as a student during the four years of medical school. She also espouses the benefits of creating a family-like community at school.

How can doctors-in-training integrate policy change with patient care? Matt, a fourth-year medical student in Philadelphia deciding whether to pursue clinical medicine at all, shares his divergent path through medical school that involved taking two years off. He reflects how his work with the government on systemic health care issues and later in medical communications informed and reinvigorated his work on the wards.

How can doctors-in-training protect themselves from the competitiveness and negativity often fostered in medical school? Roma, a fourth-year medical student at Jefferson pursuing a career in family medicine, describes how she shifted her goal from getting good grades to fostering strong relationships with patients.

How can doctors-in-training incorporate nutrition in their delivery of health care? Anne, an extended fourth-year medical student planning a career in integrative family medicine, shares her dream to centralize healthy nutrition in medical practice. She also describes her nutrition research that examines the effects of an anti-inflammatory diet for Crohn’s disease patients.

How can doctors-in-training get the support they need to get through difficult personal experiences? Mia, a fourth-year medical student from Pennsylvania who intends to become a hematologist, describes the devastating situation she endured when her best friend died during her second year in medical school. She also comments on the complications of treating people in hematology.

How can doctors-in-training not lose touch with the importance of forming relationships with patients as they continue in their training? Sasha, a fourth-year medical student who plans to go into neurology, expresses her concerns about sustaining an ideal model of patient care. She also shares how she deals with the emotions that practicing medicine triggers.

How can doctors-in-training allow their personal experiences with loss and death to inform how they practice medicine? John, a fourth-year medical student in Philadelphia intending to become a psychiatrist, reflects on how his father’s long-drawn demise from Alzheimer’s influenced him.

How can doctors-in-training honor a patient’s experience as unique and significant, even as they become accustomed to witnessing suffering? Katie, a third-year medical student in New York who also holds a MFA in oil painting, shares some of the worries and questions she is grappling with on rotations.

How can doctors-in-training learn to relate to their patients in order to practice humanistic medicine? Aryanna, a fourth-year medical student in Texas going into family medicine, remembers a patient who showed her how much she could offer beyond physical medicine. She also reflects on how her multi-ethnic identity has influenced her journey in health care.

How can doctors-in-training act in accordance with their values through the challenging medical school experience? Bit, a first-year medical student with a background in positive psychology and an interest in studying empathy in clinical contexts, describes how she entered medical school with skepticism, yet has found ways to maintain her commitment to compassion.

How can doctors-in-training help each other remember what an honor it is to be a doctor? Joseph, a fourth-year medical student at Rush Medical College who hopes to enter a pediatric residency with a public policy focus and to pursue a hematology-oncology fellowship, shares his reflections after attending this year’s Gold Humanism Honor Society Biennial National Conference in Atlanta. He discusses changes that can be made to bring humanism to the fore in medical practice, and offers advice for others wishing to do the same.

How can doctors-in-training actually practice medicine “narratively”? Daniel, a fourth-year medical student applying in pediatrics and a graduate of Columbia University’s Master of Science Program in Narrative Medicine, grapples with how to humanize the practice of medicine, especially while up against the limitations of effecting change as a medical student. He concludes with a poignant personal story about an unexpected encounter with a former patient on the streets of New York City.

How can doctors-in-training honor the voices of their patients, especially children’s voices? Trisha, a first-year medical student who aspires to become a pediatric oncologist, discusses her mission to give children with cancer the opportunity to be heard. She describes a project she developed inviting children to tell the stories of their illness, which she compiled into her book, “Chronicling Childhood Cancer: A Collection of Personal Stories by Children and Teens with Cancer,” that was published this month in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

How can doctors-in-training allow patients to directly contribute to their learning process? Laura, a second-year medical student pursuing dual medical and social science degrees, describes how, by asking her patients to walk her through their embodied experiences, she gains knowledge she cannot learn from textbooks. She also shares the joy she feels in serving not only as a diagnostician, but also as a guide through major life transitions.

How can doctors-in-training allow their personal experiences with the health care system shape their own practice? Kalla, a second-year medical student in New York, describes how witnessing her father benefit from the addition of meditation and acupuncture to his cancer treatment inspired her to incorporate an integrative approach to her own self-care and future practice.

How can doctors-in-training frame their attitudes about the challenges of medical school to make it a nourishing and enjoyable process? Sonali, a second-year medical student in New York, describes how the teachings she learned from her Hindu Vedanta tradition about selfless service — also known as “karma yoga” — influence her approach to medical school.

How can doctors-in-training navigate uncomfortable encounters with physicians of different generations and genders? Sam, a third-year medical student, shares her experience receiving inappropriate advances from an older male doctor, and reflects on the range of responses she could have made.

How can doctors-in-training cultivate a strong community in order to survive the challenges of the first year of medical school? Mckenna, a rising second-year medical student, reflects on the lessons she learned from her first year in medical school: the importance of working with others, taking care of yourself and being humble. She also shares why she feels hopeful for the future of health care.

How can doctors-in-training stay open to the many possible paths they can pursue without getting overwhelmed? Rebecca, a rising second-year medical student who took time off between undergrad and medical school, reflects on the challenges and opportunities that committing to medical school entails for her.

How can doctors-in-training practice medicine with a social justice approach that acknowledges health is not just about medicine, but about systems? Teresa, a recent medical school graduate from Hawaii going into family medicine, examines how her own privilege informed her mission to serve the communities she cares for as a clinician.

How can doctors-in-training confront great suffering without closing off emotionally? Jamie, a Class of 2014 medical student graduate heading to work at ABC News and starting a media project about the interface of meditation and medicine, shares how she practices presence with her own body and emotions in order to be present with others.

How can doctors-in-training not let beautiful moments with patients get buried beneath the challenges and monotony often experienced during medical school? Lisa, a fourth-year medical student about to join the University of Chicago NorthShore family medicine residency, recounts her favorite rotation on which she experienced the magic of delivering babies. She also reflects on what it means to not just be a good medical student, but a good physician.

How can doctors-in-training prioritize human connection with their patients, especially during beginning and end-of-life experiences? Ellie, a fourth-year medical student in New York heading to Santa Rosa, California for a family medicine residency, reflects on what she can offer — and gain — from being present with patients during birth and death.

How can doctors-in-training put narrative medicine into practice? Gab, a third-year medical student in Pittsburgh planning to pursue internal medicine and pediatrics, discovered narrative medicine as an undergraduate majoring in English literature. She describes how engagement with medical humanities not only facilitates deeper patient relationships but also provides a vital means of self-care.

How can doctors-in-training incorporate lessons from their own health experiences into the care of their patients? Brieze, a fourth-year medical student at Mt. Sinai, shares about the serious health issues she had as a child which led her to explore integrative approaches to healing that she now offers to both her patients and fellow health care providers.

How can doctors-in-training help improve the experience of minority populations in places where there are few providers with whom they can identify? Carlton, a fourth-year at the Medical University of South Carolina interested in anesthesiology, describes his motivation to pursue medicine in the South, where members of his African-American community are relative newcomers to a primarily white health care system. He also discusses the importance of treating patients as he would like himself and his family to be treated.

How can doctors-in-training learn to confront mortality with humility and self-compassion? Rehema, a first-year resident training in pediatrics in Washington D.C., reflects on the challenging experience of losing a patient as a medical student. She also shares her motivation for pursuing pediatrics: the significant opportunity to influence and prolong children’s lives.

How can doctors-in-training address human rights issues through medical care? Hieu, a first-year medical student at Rush, interested in public health and preventive medicine, shares how his experiences as a community health worker in Uganda propelled his motivation to combat structural violence as a physician. He also reflects on the significant distinctions between treatment and care.

How can doctors-in-training honor their cultural heritage in their practice of medicine? Angie, a second-year medical student in Texas, describes how her Syrian heritage and deep concern about health care in Syria today drives her motivation to become a physician.

How can doctors-in-training discern when it is appropriate to detach in the face of suffering, and when a humanistic approach is needed? Robin, a fourth-year medical student completing a fellowship on the biopsychosocial impacts on health at the National Institutes of Health, describes her strategies for connecting with suffering patients.

How can doctors-in-training bring mindfulness into medical practice? Morgan, who is currently exploring healing around the world while applying for family medicine residencies, shares how her experiences at a Zen meditation center inspired her desire to be more present with her patients.

How can doctors-in-training face the fears and failures they may experience in medical school? Nicole, a medical student taking time off after a difficult first year, candidly describes how the roadblocks she confronted were “blessings in disguise.”

How can doctors-in-training explore the relationship between being a medical practitioner and a healer? John Andrew, a fourth-year medical student from New York City, reflects on how witnessing his family’s loving care for his ailing grandmother illuminated what healing really entails. And at the end of the podcast, he summons listeners to a challenge!

How can the ways doctors-in-training evolve as individuals during medical school impact their patients? Samar, a fourth-year medical student and health coach with a passion for patient education and preventive medicine, realized that her personal self-care practices—healthy eating, yoga, exercise and gratitude—not only help her get through school but also contribute to what she can offer her patients on their healing journeys.

How can doctors-in-training manage unanticipated challenges that arise during third year? Cori, a third-year medical student in New York, discusses the effects of constantly rotating through communities during third year. She shares how personal relationships, and the support of a fellow medical student, help ground her.

How can doctors-in-training utilize creative expression to cope with and explore the challenging process of becoming a doctor? Leah, a second-year medical student, shares two poems she wrote. In the first she addresses the struggles faced during her first year, and in the second she reflects on the experience of personal healing.

How can doctors-in-training create authentic community with their fellow classmates? Joe, a second-year medical student in Ohio, discusses the challenges of first year, and speaks about discovering the power of feeling seen by and connected to others.

How can doctors-in-training find inspiration for their future careers while facing the challenges of medical school? Katie, a third-year medical student in Washington, D.C. with an interest in women’s health, describes the hope and encouragement she gained from connecting with the right mentor.

How can doctors-in-training bring spiritual perspectives into their approach to medicine? Petra, a second-year medical student in Texas interested in family medicine, shares how living in Buddhist monasteries has influenced her relationships with fellow students and her experiences with the struggles of medical school.

How can doctors-in-training balance self-care, raising a family and getting through the demands of medical school? Hannah, a medical student and mother, describes her daily struggle in the grueling process of medical training. She shares the difficult experiences in childhood that inspired her to become a healer and how her time working as a hyperbaric chamber operator revealed the limitations of Western medicine and inspired her to pursue training in naturopathic medicine and now a Western medical degree.

Annie Robinson Annie Robinson (52 Posts)

Curator of Inside Stories and in-Training Staff Member

Columbia University

Annie Robinson completed a Master of Science in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University in 2014. She previously studied the healing power of stories as an undergraduate at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Annie works as Narrative Coaching Specialist with Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, helping individuals in the early stages of eating disorder recovery through mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and narrative practices. She is also the Program Officer at Health Story Collaborative, a non-profit that creates forums for individuals to tell their stories of personal health challenges, and curates another oral narratives projects called On the Road to Recovered: Voices from the Eating Disorder Recovery Community. Annie is a coordinator and full-spectrum doula for The Doula Project in New York City, providing compassionate care for women during experiences of abortion, miscarriage, and fetal loss. As a yoga teacher, writer, educator, and co-founder of NYC-based wellness community Pause, Breathe, and Connect, Annie shares her passion for integrative approaches to wellbeing. She is dedicated to creating spaces for people to explore the healing potential of interweaving of stories, spirituality, and somatic experience.

Inside Stories

Inside Stories is an oral narratives project which invites medical students to share their experiences in medical school in the form of brief podcasts published and archived on in-Training. The project aims to provide a means of personal healing, self-realization and empowerment through the sharing and receiving of personal stories, as well as to cultivate community among students in the often isolating medical school environment. The title Inside Stories reflects the project's mission to encourage students to go inside themselves and bring forth things that often go unspoken. It also represents the inside look listeners are granted into the sometimes private, challenging and confusing experiences students may have. Made possible in part by a grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and FJC.