When I applied for medical school, I knew I was signing up for hard work. I knew I would have to spend countless hours studying, that my sleep cycle might never be the same. But I had not expected this.
While it is clear that the issue of depression and anxiety extends well beyond the medical school admissions process, it is important to ask whether it is the beginning of a long and slippery slope to a life of anxiety and depression.
It’s ironic that the medical field is arguably the most humane profession, yet we put our residents and physicians-in-training through such pain and suffering.
It’s 1 a.m., everyone’s running on three cups of coffee / When a man stumbles through the entrance / And I could hear whispers of / It’s him, the homeless man, back in the ER again
“From now on,” our deans told us at orientation, “society will see you as a doctor. Sometimes you may not feel like one, but that is what you are becoming. This week marks the beginning of that transition, which will continue in the months and years to come.”
And what does it mean now? To be accepted? To be initiated, congratulated and nudged toward a curriculum made jokingly infamous by well-meaning administrators and by a culture which treats such consuming endeavors as medical school like abstract forms of busyness?
This path has been far from cookie cutter, / From being kneaded and rolled / By demanding needs to fulfill multiple roles, / I can’t help but wonder, will I make the cut?
On a December night in a northern suburb of Chicago, the weather outside dipped into single digits with a sub-zero wind-chill. Safely situated indoors, a group of medical students wandered into a classroom where five tables were covered by plastic tarps with another laden with pipe cleaners, acrylic paint and brushes, and a stack of blank masks. Licking the emotional wounds left by a sleep-deprived exam week that ended only three days prior, the students eyed the art supplies. They were hopeful for a means for reconcile their psyche tattered by cold and a semester of school.
Whenever I go to the hospital, I wear my grandpa’s socks. They looked distinguished on an older man, but a little childish on a me, a 25-year-old medical student. I’m okay with that. Feeling like an overdressed kid on Easter helps to balance the overwhelming pressure of becoming a physician.
Mental health has been on my mind lately, but not only because of the “Physician Mental Health” and “Resiliency Training” lectures we’ve been receiving during this block. A few weeks ago, one of my best friends from home texted me to say one of her medical school classmates had committed suicide a few days ago.
It was a tangent during conversation, but I felt my jaw tighten as soon as I heard it. Proposed changes, increase in work hours, for the good of the patients and of the doctors too. It was a Friday evening as I was working on a project with colleagues. As we scuttled toward a new topic, my thoughts were heavy and my hands, anxious. A friend brought up the proposed revisions concerning medical interns’ work hours the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is pushing to a vote in February. ACGME is looking to raise the number of hours that can be worked consecutively by medical interns from 16 to 24 hours, plus an extra four for patient handoffs.
The topic of burnout is huge in today’s medical community. Multiple articles and studies have been published demonstrating that burnout is prevalent in all levels of medical training from the day-one medical student to the most senior practicing attending.