Sunday, July 25, 2010

How To Survive Medical School Part 1: Friends

So, you have passed the MCAT/UMAT/GAMSAT/interview, and accepted the offer. Congratulations. Good luck.

You have quit your job, graduated from your university degree, finished high school and tied off the loose ends of your previous life.

You have perused forums, delved into the medical school's official website, grilled doctors in your circle of family or friends, and maybe bought some books.

But where do you go from here? How do you survive? There seems to be so much that you have to do. When you stand at the bottom of that hill, looking up at the mountain of information, expectations, exams and tasks, it can seem like too much for one person to take on.

That is because it is. There are bound to be some rare individuals who went through the whole process without asking for help or looking for handed-down notes or pointers left behind by previous students, but they would be hard to come by, particularly as they would be so stressed and busy that you would never see them.

If you have gotten into medical school, chances are you are now in a group of people who are (on average) extremely intelligent and motivated. As cynical as we can be sometimes about some of the people we work or study with, they could not be where they are if they weren't very smart.

It is worth remembering that very few of these people got over the hurdles and through the hoops by themselves. You need your friends, and you need the help of students who have been there before you.

Before I had gotten into medical school, I had no idea how much medical students rely on each other and are willing to help each other to get through. Each year of students has relied on the advice and help from previous years, so they help the coming years of students to get through to return the favour.

This can be in the form of tutorials, study notes and summaries, past exam papers or just encouragement. The directions from the medical school about how and what you need to study can be overwhelming and almost impossible. Student advice can keep you sane and quite literally help you pass. If you haven't heard of anything like this, make sure you ask around. There is bound to be something that can make your life easier.

Having a good group of friends (even one or two buddies) can also help keep everything in perspective. If you are feeling the pressure and feel like it is all too much, chances are that many people around you are feeling the exact same way, even if they stay calm on the outside.

It really helps to have other people there who you can be honest with about what you are going through, and when you learn how they are coping, it gets easier for all of you. I don't need to go into why having friends is important and how wonderful it is to have people around you who understand what you are going through, I'll just say that making time for friendships is vital.

Don't forget to try to maintain your friendships outside of medical school. Sometimes it is lovely to go out to dinner with a group of people and know that there is no chance of them describing their latest complicated laparoscopic surgery or FB retrieval. I have friends who apologise for talking about the latest adventures of their toddlers, but I love hearing about it. Normalcy is refreshing.

There are also avenues to ask for more substantial help, but I will talk about that in another post as I think it deserves its own space.

Another piece of advice I have to give is to remember that the people who are studying with will one day be your colleagues. You will refer patients to each other, call for advice and one day one of you may be the other's boss. They will know and work with people who you may desperately want to impress.

They may also be your treating doctor or the doctor of one of your friends or family. If you think they are hopeless, feel free to remember their names, but don't tell them so to their face.

Don't burn your bridges. Be civil, even if you find somebody really grates on you. You don't have to be their best buddy, but remember that one day you may have to work together as professionals, so it would be good to not get to the point where things get nasty.

Even if you are an important consultant and head of your department, having everybody you work with despise you is a very bad idea, and as a medical student it will be a long time until you will seriously consider being in that kind of position.

Hospitals are very small places, rife with gossip and intrigue, and so are medical schools. It is not the end of the world if you don't get along with another person, but if you can avoid being outright hostile, I would at least try to be neutral. Good luck. Ask for help.


Fuddled Medic said...

Just been procrastinating and discovered your blog. Its so true, I am incredibly grateful to some of my medic friends. I have found that they are some of the most loyal people I have ever met

*C said...

While there are a few exceptions and moments of med student hysteria, your classmates and peers are such valuable gifts throughout the course. I'm constantly amazed by the generosity and strength of others, grateful for the help and guidance of senior students and enjoy the support and encouragement we give to one another. We give ourselves a bad name focusing on med student neuroticisms and competitiveness, but I think that sense of community is something that makes the course pretty special. I definitely didn't have that in my previous degree.