So you got into med school, congratulations! You have had your inauguration week and your white coat ceremony where you took an oath to do no harm and abide by the rules and save human lives and make gold out of poop! You watched a video of previous graduation ceremonies, proof that all the struggle is going to pay off and you are going to be a real doctor and change the world. You have been reminded that you are the handpicked ones, the smartest of the lot, the chosen ones. Most importantly, you are wearing a white coat and it makes you feel a little like superman.
Sadly, that high is not going to last very long. Soon, you are going to start classes and realise the following:
- You are NOT changing the world and you are NOT super woman. You don’t even get to see the real world. No, you are only going to be sitting through lectures (which, by the way, are going to run for eight hours straight) and study for tests and do assignments, somewhat similar to what you did a few months ago in school, only now so much harder.
- You are not the smartest of the lot anymore. You look around and you are surrounded by everyone who have been handpicked, special and smart. So yeah, there goes your sense of pride and special-ness.
- Your professors are not the gorgeously-scrubbed-men-with-perfect-hair like you always imagined them to be. No, they are old, stressed out and not making you feel so special anymore. Instead you feel more stupid with every passing class.
To make things worse, there will be people who will appear to have it all figured out. There will be people who will look down on you for feeling lost. There will be family members who will come to you with all their medical problems and expect you to have it all figured out and when they realise that you don’t, they will look down on you, disappointed. Inevitably, you will drown yourself into a world of cakes and ice cream.
Here’s the thing: you are not alone! No one enters med school with the divine knowledge that the beginning is awful, that it’s going to take over your life and that you’re probably going to send a huge deal of time not making a difference, not helping anyone and possibly doing serious damage to your own heath with the insomnia and the bad food and the stress. When you look around, concentrate, you will realise that most of your class is in the exact same place as you are.
A few months in, I was having one of those days. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events that led to me feeling that way. But it was a bad day and I was feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, wondering where I was going with my life and whether I had what it takes to be a doctor or anything at all. I was thinking about how no body else seems to be having the same amplitude of problems as me. So I went to the library and just sat among the books because being surrounded by books always made me feel better and calmed me down. I was there for a long time, walking between the rows and reading the different book titles, occasionally picking up a few. While I was doing that, I spotted this girl from my year apparently doing the same thing as me. She was one of those quiet but confident people. I hadn’t gotten the chance to talk to her before. Either way, I went over and we ended up chatting for over an hour. She told me how scared she was how nothing seemed to make sense and how she felt like she wasn’t good enough or smart enough. By the end of that conversation, believe me, I felt so much better!
So to the freshers, I say, seek help. Talk to people. Talk to your seniors. They have been through your phase and they know how hard it is. Talk to your peers. Once you do, you will realise that we are all in the same boat. You will realise that you are just as scared and confused and clueless and somehow, that makes it better.This is what I realised after that day: it is so important to have someone to talk to. It could be anyone; your friends from college, your family, even a therapist. Because med school is hard enough as it is and nothing makes it worse than keeping it all inside and trying to deal with it all by yourself. I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of having a strong support system. I know people who tried to push through it themselves and eventually cracked. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a necessary step.
To those of you who have finished the journey or are close, make an effort to reach out to those who are still struggling. Remember when you were that naive and scared? Share your experience, give a word of advise, be a support system. You will be surprised as to how much of an impact your empathy and a word of advice can have.
“The Making of a Medic” explores that which transforms the head of a high school graduate to that of a medic, shedding some light on what the life of a medic is really like, away from the myths and speculations. This column focuses on the reflections of personal experiences rather than the scholastics of medical school.