Students across the country in all grade levels, from preschool to graduate school, had their educational routines upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown. In medicine, there were special challenges associated with adapting safety protocols to a field that inherently requires human interaction.
My medical school career was complicated by more than just complex cardiac physiology or biochemical pathways. Little did I know that at the end of my second year I would go from knocking on a patient’s door during a clinical session, to sitting in an exam room myself.
if we can just cling / and weather this weather, / we can make some things / much better and better.
This phenomenon of imposter syndrome is prevalent in many of us pursuing medicine. Especially for those of us who are first-generation physicians, we are left to fend through uncharted territories. While we try to do our best to navigate this difficult path, we are left feeling that there is someone else better suited for our spot in medicine. We feel that we are not deserving of this privilege. As we pass through these high obstacles — basic sciences, board exams, core rotations, even electives — we stew in self-doubt after each success.
As I reviewed the notes, it occurred to me that many of my peers and I have displayed some of the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Our professor’s lectures emphasized the importance of recognizing these features in patients, but what about identifying them in ourselves? Should it also be our duty to recognize the signs and symptoms in our colleagues?
A few years ago, I found CrossFit. Since then, I have spent a large share of my free time training and improving my health and fitness. As with any sport, there was a large learning curve. However, as I trained, my mind and body adapted. I made strides both athletically and mentally that I never thought were possible. I never imagined that this preparation and development would translate to a seemingly opposing task: medical school.
You don’t have to sit in silence and painfully nod along with an attending’s racist, misogynistic lectures because you’re their medical student. You don’t need to pick the skin off your cuticles to stop yourself from replying. You don’t need to learn how to hide your grimaces behind your mask because you know you’ll have to listen to them attack your identity for the next several weeks.
A medical student, to whom I will refer as X, posted on their social media page they were going to kill themselves. Their letter was direct, raw and, as many suicide notes tend to be, apologetic. They explained they felt they no longer had the strength to keep fighting; it was simply “time for them to go.”
They say to be tough is to have thick skin, but I say to have thick tears. / Skin? It can collect pimples, papercuts, and pus, can be scratched, scraped, and sliced.
Many medical schools today offer wellness programs that aim to strengthen the ability to cope with the demands of curricula through techniques such as mindfulness. However, although these efforts are well-intentioned, they have yet to completely resolve the issues of isolation. It is critical for students and faculty to explore innovative methods to tackle feelings of isolation, such as through the use of improvisational and comedic theater.
Although I’ve spent only a mere two and a half years as a student in this world of medical education, it’s readily apparent that I fit into very few of the “typical medical student” patterns. I’m part of a small cohort of dual degree students. I’m nontraditional, having never considered becoming a physician until after I graduated from college in 2013. And I am a disabled woman.
When I was told I had a mass in my chest, I was shocked. Like most people who are told that they have cancer, I was blindsided. But it was even more shocking because I had been going to multiple doctors over a period of six months complaining of pain in my chest, right arm, and right shoulder.