A medical student struggles to fight negative thoughts

As I turn off my laptop after taking notes for two consecutive hours on microcytic anemia and pack my pens and papers, millions of thoughts come to my mind.

Only yesterday, we finished our microbiology exam. Bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi mnemonics are still in my mind, many of which I forgot what they refer to. The microbiology exam finished, and another challenge is on the way.

Everyone faces challenges and bumps along their road in any profession or any major. However, in medical school, you just don’t get the time to take a breath, relax after the exam and reset your mood. Your status is always “busy studying.” It doesn’t matter if it’s summer, winter, Christmas or Easter, you will be busy studying. And if you are not, you’d better be because you don’t want to drop below the average in that exam.

As I move from the lecture hall to the library, I struggle to fight the negative thoughts that might discourage me.

Why do we do all of this? Where should I get my motivation? Maybe if I chose another path, it would’ve been easier — the tuition would’ve been much less, studying would’ve been more enjoyable and less stressful, and my life would be much more pleasurable.

As I enter the library, I sit in the same place, in the farthest corner, so that I am far from distractions and noise. My notes are still there: more than a hundred weird names of pathogens, symptoms, and drugs — all of which we managed to memorize in two weeks.

It’s been a long time since I watched a movie or went on a hike. My friends stopped inviting me places, and my acquaintances nearly forgot me. Why would I spend my night studying weird sets of words and tables instead of going out or enjoying my time with my friends? How much will I be able to withstand the isolation, the stress and the lifestyle med school has prepared for me? Is this what I want to be: a miserable student who always feels obliged to study?

The amount of material we are given to memorize is overwhelming. I already miss reading books. Now we only use summarized books and tables that we simply memorize. I remove my First Aid Step book, open the lectures on my laptop in front of me and start reading and highlighting information.

In my pre-med years, I have always thought that life in med school is easy. Once you are accepted into the medical school you want to be in, competition will fade and studying would be less stressful. On the contrary, medical school is more stressful than pre-med year. Even if you were one of the top students in your undergrad years, medical students never fail to make you feel like an average person. Competition for grades, research opportunities, electives, and residency programs still pressure students to exhaust themselves more and more.

And the worst thing to think about is that medical school is just the beginning. Four years of hard work and sleepless nights aren’t enough for you to build a successful career. You could end up doing another year or two in research, followed by five years of residency and maybe a few more years in fellowships and subspecialties, all of which are also tiresome.

I fail to ignore these thoughts. The lecture slides and the books in front of me appear to be taunting me. I can’t take this anymore! I close the books and go out of the library for a walk. I don’t want to study anymore. I want to live my life — with no stresses or obligations. I want to take a break and travel, meet new people, go out with my friends, enjoy reading a good book, see a movie. I want my life back!

As I take a walk outside, I observe the medical center facing the library. An old man just got out with his son, smiling. I can predict his story, only from the five-second scene. He had an infectious disease, or maybe a minor surgery. It doesn’t matter. What I can notice is how grateful he is to the medical staff who helped him and give him some extra few months, or maybe years, with his son. It meant the world to me. It was as if my gut filled with energy that radiated and enlightened me. It suddenly all made sense. I want to be here. I want to have the skills to help.

I went back to the library, opened my books and continued studying.

Samer Bou Karroum is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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