There have been many articles stating that medical students become more cynical as they progress through training. Now, I could go on a multiple paragraph rant about how that shouldn’t be the case or maybe even share a quote about how it’s the journey that really matters. Instead, I’d rather discuss a way to navigate those negative feelings if and when they do visit.
1. Make balance a priority: Medical school may be the first time you have to juggle a rigorous workload with the other facets of your life. Take time to continue pursuing your other interests. For some, that might mean twenty minutes a day while for others, weekend mornings. This will not only help with burnout but it may also guide you towards a particular field of medicine later down the line. I relished traveling when I was younger and worried how that would work with life as a medical student. My dean found opportunities for me to go abroad for global health trips and even connected me with people who do that full time. One of the biggest challenges a future physician faces is how to fully commit to medicine without losing their identity. The rest of your life will be spent allocating time among your numerous priorities and medical school is an ideal place to start learning how.
2. Acknowledge your limitations: You cannot solve all of a patient’s problems in one visit. At our student run clinic, I examined a woman, Mrs. P, with chronic back pain from her job. Every day, Mrs. P assisted nurses with lifting patients from their wheelchairs to their beds. Even though she wanted to, she could not leave her job since she was the sole source of income in her household. On top of that, her husband was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia and had frequent mood disorders and paranoia.
Confused, I ran to the physician on duty. “How are we possibly going to help her?”
“Let’s take it one step at a time,” he said. “She came in for the pain, so we’ll find out more about that and give her treatment accordingly. Next time she comes in, we need to find a way to get her out of that job.”
It took six months but eventually, we were able to find Mrs. P. a better job. Many of the patients you’ll have the privilege of knowing will have chronic conditions and you may not always help them in the way you hoped.
3. Be humble: One of the most fascinating things about medicine is that it’s constantly evolving. The first two years of medical school will often feel like pure volume overload, whether it’s memorizing the origin and insertion sites of every muscle in the body or making mnemonics of various drugs and their interactions. Your patients may not know the names of their medications and will use descriptions such as “my tiny peach pill” and “that big, white one”. A teaching physician might take out their bad day on you. Instead of succumbing to doubt or wondering if you should give up, use these experiences as opportunities to cultivate resilience and persistence. In other words, teach yourself not to give up. The most successful people are resilient to daily and long term failures. There is always more to learn, always a new route for improvement.