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.
One thing I’ve always associated the holiday season with (besides lots of yummy food) is singing — anything and everything from Christmas caroling to hymns at church. I’ve never had a very good voice, but one thing I always noticed was that I enjoyed myself every time I sang. However, I always chalked it up to the situation rather than the act of singing itself.
When you look at their white coats / Do you see what I see? / Do you see future doctors / Who are struggling to be
Everyone loves Katniss Everdeen. What’s not to love about the strong, independent, bad-ass woman? Given that exams and Step 1 are looming closer and closer, I’ve been feeling less and less sure of myself and wishing that I could channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and emerge victorious against the Capitol–and by the Capitol, I mean exams). When sharing these thoughts with a friend, it occurred to me that I could step into Katniss’s shoes for a day by taking archery lessons. So, my friend and I gathered a group to see if any of us could hypothetically be the next winner of The Hunger Games.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My struggle began around nine months before my eventual diagnosis. This was on a background of an entire lifetime governed by this haunting feeling that something was different. Or that something was not right. Yet being the overachiever that I was, no one noticed. I was always left to question whether my reactions were just a disproportionate reaction to certain life events. And I was repeatedly told the same thing.