When I was applying for medical school, I applied to schools in both Canada and the United States. At that point, I would have been happy with any medical school that accepted me, however, I really wanted to stay close to home and go to my alma mater’s MD program. I had many reasons for wanting to stay: I would only be a 40 minute drive from my parents and I wanted to keep my support system — including my college friends, family and my partner — close.
It turns out everything changed for me in one email. A waitlist.
Relying on the waitlist was not an option for me. I couldn’t simply wait it out because Canadian schools have a rolling basis for acceptance until September, and American schools generally want full commitment by June or July. It felt like I had no choice but to move to America. So much change was happening so fast. It was overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong, my program is amazing and I am thankful for all the opportunities. But the other aspects of moving scared me. How was I going to navigate living alone, so far from family, in an unfamiliar state? Who would take care of me if I got really sick? And most importantly, how would I deal with loneliness?
These questions ran through my mind for the six weeks leading up to my flight. I felt anxious and unsure of the future. There were many things I needed to address before leaving, not the least of them being my relationship. During this time my partner and I had to make a difficult decision: whether or not we were serious about our relationship and how we were going to manage long distance. We knew that his good friend had been in a long distance relationship for three years, so we reached out to him and had a serious conversation about whether or not this was realistic for us. He was very reassuring. We talked about communication, trust and frequent trips to reconnect. As it turns out, this advice was not only crucial to a romantic long distance relationship, but also for maintaining relationships with other members of my support system.
The transition to living in the United States was not as difficult as I had imagined. In the beginning, I was lucky enough to visit home every six to eight weeks after a block. It almost felt like I had never left because not much changed in between these trips. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit in the second semester of my first year so I could not visit Canada unless I was able to complete a 14-day quarantine. This made it very difficult to visit as often as I did in the start.
I’ve now only been able to visit once a year because of the pandemic. So much has happened in my absence, and I often find that I feel more and more disconnected from the place I call “home.” Every time that I am able to go back, it feels different — as if something else has changed since last time, something else to add to an ever-growing list of changes. I can now see new wrinkles on my parents’ faces when we FaceTime. My friends are starting new programs, developing their careers or moving provinces. My sister went from being shorter than I to being the tallest in our family. In addition to not being able to go home, my parents have only been able to visit me once over the course of my two and a half years in medical school.
With the pandemic I’ve adjusted the ways in which I stay in touch. Frequent phone calls (well … it ends up being somewhat frequent) and social media posts are my go-to. The relationships I’ve developed while in medical school are a blessing because they are my support system — I don’t feel as lonely anymore because of them.
Many of us have experienced challenges in balancing relationships with our friends, family, and even significant others while in medical school. I write this piece as a small introduction to how I’ve managed these relationships and in future pieces of my column, I hope to go into more detail with each aspect of my support system. I hope to connect with my readers who are going through similar challenges. I know that a rigorous training curriculum can make it really difficult to stay in contact with our support system — and that can be lonely. But just know that you are not alone. I am by no means a professional in staying in touch with my loved ones. I am learning how to be better at it everyday.
A special acknowledgement to Barbara Mullen, who always helps my writing come to life.
Column Image courtesy of Neha De0.
It can be difficult to balance relationships with medical school — not just a romantic one, but also those with our family and friends. With this column I hope to show a more vulnerable side of the challenges that come with balancing medical school and maintaining our personal relationships. If you are reading this and are feeling the same, just know you are not alone!