Yet, I am worried that these stories of heroism are harming the very people they celebrate. By creating an ideal “health care worker” as an endlessly altruistic individual, it stigmatizes the medical workers who refuse to take on these risks — even though there are many legitimate reasons not to. I’ve talked to doctors in China who have watched their friends and colleagues die during the SARS epidemic, who have watched the government break its promises to support their families after their death, and who, as a result, are no longer willing to volunteer on the frontlines. I’ve watched videos of nurses in the U.S. crying after they were forced to quit their jobs because hospitals are not providing them with the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to keep them safe. Many of them said that they were afraid of getting infected and spreading the disease to their high-risk family members. Who can say these are not real concerns? Who can call these physicians and nurses selfish and irresponsible?
And with scientific advancements came cures and treatments that the healers of antiquity could have never imagined. However, these advances came at the cost of appreciating a holistic approach to health. How pitiful is it when a profession which was once completely focused on healing the whole person must now devote entire conferences and countless seminars to finding ways of injecting that back into both its practitioners and the people they serve? In modern times, this disconnect is often bridged by the chaplaincy and pastoral care team. I understood this when I first reached out to Reverend Johnson. I hoped that she would be able to shed light on her profession as well as on her role in caring for patients.
A first-year medical student’s stress and anxiety begin to take physical form as she navigates her first year of 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.
While it is easy to feel stuck and unhappy in this current life-box, I recognize that we must take a few deep breaths and understand that this too shall pass. And that this did pass for all the physicians before us and will pass for all the physicians after us. And we will all get past this together.
I was anxious because I was used to moving at such a fast pace that slamming on the breaks gave me whiplash. I was desperate for things to do because I had forgotten how to slow down and relax — how to just be. Slowly, I began to see the opportunity that quarantine had presented me with.
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.”
Interviewers who ask these questions in a professional setting typically consider these issues to be academic — purely topics for discussion that might provide useful insight into the way the applicant views the world. But for applicants who have been affected, these issues are not merely academic and their discussion can invoke significant emotional turmoil. So before we continue to tacitly accept this shift in interviewing, it is important to consider its purpose and impact on those being interviewed.
It feels preemptive to discuss emergence while sitting in the living room where I’ve spent 15 hours a day for the past month — bradycardic afternoons mirroring the day prior. Yet each day the sun emerges, and we along with it, venturing out onto balconies and porches. As medical students, we take our pro re nata walks and remember to cross the street so our paths don’t intersect those of our neighbors.
The world is quarantined, but we have learned to be human again. Rather than tirelessly working or studying, we are forced to engage with one another in meaningful ways. We find novel alternatives to maintain relationships with those who mean the most to us during this daunting time with no foreseeable end.
I am okay being alone; it’s not hard to do. / For other people, they can’t do it as if they were left scarred anew. / The trick is to keep your mind busy.
Back in late March, I was a medical student in D.C. studying for exams. Today, I am a 23-year-old living with my parents again. Despite being in school 5+ hours away, my bedroom in upstate New York has become my new classroom. Being at home has its perks: I get food from my mom again, and I can wear pajamas all day if I wanted to (not that I actually do that). However, there are many things that don’t feel right about being a medical student who has no connection to the medical world right now.