As medical students, we are familiar with the Triple Aim for health care improvement in the United States — to improve the patient care experience, improve the health of populations, and reduce the per capita costs of healthcare. While the move towards a quality-focused and patient-centered health system is encouraging in many ways, it cannot be accomplished by a workforce of burned out and jaded professionals.
Medical school can be an overwhelming journey for many students as the pace, quantity of content, and work hours far exceeds even the most prepared students’ expectations. The overall demand of medical school makes having a “normal life” very challenging; that is, the ability to attend happy hours or frequent social events, see local professional teams play or cultivate hobbies all become difficult to orchestrate between the endless pages of reading or practice UWorld questions.
“All an average medical student wants in life is knowledge, fitness, travel, individuality, and a sense of direction (is that too much to ask?)”
One of my bucket-list goals before I die is to climb Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro. Where did this come from? I’m not entirely sure. Yet something about climbing the tallest two mountains in the world has always appealed to me; I like challenges, and I can see no greater challenge to my physical and mental fortitude. However, even though I try to work out regularly, I’ve never gone rock climbing in my life. Therefore, keeping this bucket-list goal in mind, I decided to grab some friends and go rock climbing for my next adventure.
Unlike me, a lot of my medical school peers are involved in dance activities, from ballroom to hip-hop, and claim that going to dance classes really helps them shake off any negative feelings from the day. Intrigued, I did a little research. Sure enough, I found several articles espousing the beneficial effects of dance on mental health.
Despite its omnipresence, Time seemed to be in reliably short supply throughout the year. I keenly felt its absence: less time to cook and clean. Less time to exercise; less time to date. Less time to read and to write.
Earlier in the summer, I was speaking with a friend from medical school while we were studying for Step 1, the big test taken by medical students at the end of second year, and he remarked, “There’s really nothing quite like this. We probably don’t even realize how strange it is since we’re so ingrained in it.” He was right: the demands of medical school often make it an all-encompassing undertaking, one that can be difficult to explain to those outside it.
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.
A very important topic is that of mental health in medical practitioners, notably medical students. According to a study in the Student British Medical Journal, 30% of medical students report having a mental health condition — with a majority of 80% stating the level of available support was poor or only moderately adequate. This column was born from these alarming statistics and aims to stimulate conversation on mental health in medical students, from providing suggestions on how to maintain one’s mental health to discussing the taboo and stigma surrounding conversations on mental health in practitioners and students, and how to eliminate it.
During my first year of medical school, I had the privilege of speaking at several high schools and colleges. The purpose of these interactions was to shed light on what I did to matriculate into medical school, my experiences as a medical student, and to answer any questions. No matter where I went though, one question always followed: “What is the hardest part of medical school?”
The life of a medical student can be quite isolating at times. In many ways, the struggle to become competent and knowledgeable on the wards becomes so all-consuming that it is so easy to become one-dimensional. After long hours during the day trying to keep up with the fast-paced schedules of the hospital, we return home with more studying and brushing up to do so that we may be ready for another day of endless learning. It is one simple task — to learn as much as we can — but it is one that can seem too much at times.
After four tough years of medical school and student loans, facing down seven more grueling years of training, aspiring neurosurgeons enter a residency interview process that is as bizarre as it is effective.