Medical school gets a reputation for being a time stealing black hole from which students only temporarily reappear before residency begins. Reasonably so, when one considers the vast number of hours dedicated to memorizing biochemical pathways, bugs and drugs, the months spend study for board exams and the years dedicated to learning the essence of medicine. It has been estimated that medical students learn 13,000 new words just in the first year.
As my first year of medical school comes to a close, I, like many other students, have come to realize the challenge that comes in balancing personal life with medical school life. Exams, assessments, extracurricular activities, volunteering, research and clinical experiences take a toll on our free time. But perhaps the most difficult aspect of finding balance is dealing with the guilt felt when not doing medicine related activities. On many occasions I have found myself thinking, “I should be studying” or “why am I so lazy” after spending a weekend with family. It is easy to get caught up in oneself and the desire to be the perfect medical student. It is easy to drift away from relationships. It is easy to be selfish. And it is easy to forget why we want to be physicians.
Relationships are at the heart of medicine. As a medical student, this is easy to forget when so much emphasis is placed on the success of the individual. Being a physician is more than knowing facts and finding answers. It is about connecting science to the art of human healing. To see patients as people, not diseases, assessments and plans. It is through relationships that we learn to understand others and it is through this understanding that the art of medicine emerges.
This takes time and continual practice. It is something that we learn when we put down our textbooks and become fully present with the people in our life. It is difficult. It is messy. But it is necessary. I know that the next three years and beyond will confront this ideal and I cannot uphold it alone. Therefore, my challenge to other medical students is to hold one another accountable for our relationships so that we may become better physicians, if not better human beings.
Danielle R. Grams is a medical student.