Earlier this month, I watched my younger sister begin her medical school journey as she walked on stage in front of family members and peers to be officially “white-coated.” I had never been to another White Coat Ceremony since my own years ago. It was fascinating to observe it from my now-more-seasoned fourth-year medical student eyes — especially at another institution.
Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi — I love them all. Board games have been an integral part of my life since I was young, and I attribute my childish competitiveness to the number of times I was beaten in these games in my childhood.
Depression — the term itself certainly does well to evoke a feeling of doom and negativity. On an everyday basis, we often associate feelings such as the disappointment from a poor test score, the physical exhaustion incurred from a stressful day, and even the unexpected blight of cloudy grey skies, with depression.
Imagine you are a first-year medical student and just moved across the country to start your training. It is a stressful time, adjusting to a new city, a school, and new people.
In November, I hated medicine. The gray clouds that watched from the sky followed me day after day — to my car, into the hospital, to my car again, and back inside my home. At times the haze was tolerable; an inconvenience, a bother, but no real trouble. Other times, it was suffocating.
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.
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.
On your mat, you struggle to lie on a bent leg, intensifying your stretch as your hip pleads for you to give up. Many yoga instructors describe hip-openers as a “dynamic” pose because the body is in a constant flux between comfort and discomfort. But there is a moment when your internal struggle abruptly ends.
As medical students, we recognize that bias in medicine is doubly damaging: it burdens our peers and it harms our patients. In the opening narratives we see both of these at play: in Micaela’s self-doubt and frustration, and in the intern’s judgment of their older, Latina patient. Such clinician bias has been increasingly shown to contribute to widespread health inequities.
A fellow student writer recently wrote that she wondered if depression were “just part of life as a medical student.” One of her professors had given a lecture on depression asking students to “think of how many people we knew with the signs of depression listed on his lecture slide” — excluding medical students of course, “because you’ve all got some of these.” There is something so terribly and inherently wrong with that statement.
I have always toyed with the idea that I may have depression. Numerous times I have looked over the various depression diagnoses and their criteria. But then I settle on the idea that my thoughts and emotions and struggle are not severe enough. Everyone experiences sadness. Everyone experiences grief.
Medical schools and hospitals across the nation proudly claim to be “starting a conversation” about mental health in medicine. I could lose the residency of my dreams for taking part in it.