Transitions of a first year medical student

by Kristine Casal

The moment you get accepted to medical school, you never really think about how everything is going to be different. You figure everything’s going to stay the way they are, with the exception of the inevitable long and laborious hours of studying day and night. You don’t think about how much time you won’t have (because you had the weekends, right?) or friends you might lose along the way.

I know I didn’t. In fact, I was so convinced that I could do it all: go to class from 8am-12pm then be in the anatomy lab from 1pm-5pm, eat dinner, then study until my eyeballs went numb or I pass out in my cubicle at the library. I would wake up the next day and do same thing all over again. I assured my parents that I do TRY to remember to eat in between classes or studying, that I TRY to not drink too much coffee. I tried to keep my relationship steady, because I didn’t want to be part of the infamous “turkey drop” statistic. Plus I tried to maintain the tight bond I had with friends I considered family and then have some type of social life.  Try, try, try. I had no idea how long I was going to make it work, it lasted for a little while but then it got too exhausting. Something had to give, and in my case a lot did.

Shortly before the second term, my relationship ended because I didn’t want to make any time or effort. We rarely saw each other and I became too self-involved, I wanted all my time to myself. Soon after, I realized that I was also burning bridges with my best friends. Not intentionally mind you, I’ve made attempts to work it out but the damage was done and we’ve already drifted so far apart. I was never around nor did I really care about being there. They wanted my time but that’s exactly what I didn’t have enough of. My priorities changed gradually throughout this first year, and it quickly dawned on me that I wasn’t the same.  I typically like to make everyone around me happy, that’s just the kind of person I’ve always been—but in reality that wasn’t doable anymore. Being in medical school is a full-time (unpaid) job, and I am investing on my career and future here, so sacrifices had to be made. I just didn’t expect it to be at this magnitude.

The thing is, I’m going to be saving lives one day so I want to be damn good at it. I’ve worked so hard to get here and if I have to give up certain things to live my dream then so be it, cheesy as that may sound. This seemingly challenging and endless journey has brought me new experiences, relationships and friendships with a few amazing people that will become my future colleagues.

As a medical student, you have to adapt to survive. No one likes change, but you have to compartmentalize and prioritize accordingly more so now than ever, in order to focus on what’s important and preserve your sanity. There will be days that you want to give up and wonder how you’re going to get through it all. You might lose some friends, who may or may not come around. No matter how frustrating, you have to accept that you can’t force everyone to understand. You have to learn to let go and move on. You’ll always have your family’s support; don’t you want to continue to make them proud?

Life is going to throw a ton of curve balls along the way but just remember to take it one day at a time. Learn how to be selfish, and actually be okay with it. For me, this was a hard pill to swallow. But then remind yourself that you’re entire life will be dedicated to helping others; this IS the perfect time to put yourself first.

I did. How else would I have, almost (finals are still looming) survived my first year?

Kristine Casal is a medical student.

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