As first year came to an end, we were asked to reflect on our experiences thus far. The multitude of tests and memorized facts, anatomy dissections, and patient interactions flooded my mind. Shockingly, it was not the difficulty of the first year of medical school that I will remember the most, rather the jaded comments from physicians and students that attempted to cloud my perspective of medicine.
“Medicine is different now. It’s high risk, no reward. You’ll never be your own boss.”
I plead with all physicians, who interact with students in any capacity, to stop painting a skewed picture of medicine that serves to only increase anxiety, self-doubt, and ultimately push students away from the field. Despite the common sentiment expressed above, I have also had the pleasure of meeting physicians who love their job even though they recognize the issues in our system. As mentors and role models, provide us with solutions, guide us with your experience, but do not suffocate us with your anger.
“Enjoy who you are now, after third year you’ll be a completely different person.”
We are taught to observe the hidden curriculum and learn from the mistakes of our clinical preceptors. Somewhere along the way we become them. Far too often, the metamorphosis that occurs in medical school from the doe-eyed first year to the sleep deprived third year is joked about. Humor is a coping mechanism used commonly in medicine, but I wonder how often people notice the hint of truth behind every jest. It is important that we as medical students maintain an open dialogue regarding our experiences; embrace personal growth, while being aware of the external factors that shape us and how we view ourselves.
“Don’t do surgery. You won’t be able to have a family.”
As a female medical student, I have heard this “advice” more times than I can count. Annoyingly, this wisdom comes dripping in paternalism from male surgeons and not the women surgeons I aspire to join the ranks of one day. I recognize the importance of understanding the effect of specialty choice on lifestyle, but do not assume every student has the same life goals or discount the number of women that are both mothers and work to support their families.
Although we are beginning to draw more attention to the detrimental effects associated with pursuing a career medicine, medical education has been slow to change. Medical school is focused on the memorization of facts, hopes for high Step scores, and competition. We as doctors strive to prevent obesity, cardiovascular disease, infections, and other maladies that are inflicted upon our patients, but when will we begin to prevent the cycle of depression, anxiety, and emotional distress that medical students experience at the hands of the system that is meant to educate us. We are taught that this is a part of the journey; that if we can not handle the pressure, we are not worthy of our careers. I do not doubt the importance of the knowledge, skills, and maturity we gain as medical students, but there must be a better way to achieve the same results.
Ironically, as we learn to heal our future patients, we are slowly broken. Medical education must truly incorporate the care of students into the curriculum in order to improve the health of students and their future patients. Physicians should encourage medical students and help them navigate the struggles associated with pursuing a career in medicine. Be mindful of your words, the students that are listening, and seek not to continue the cycle of abuse, but rather consciously destroy it.
“I shouldn’t complain, I guess. At least I’m going to be a doctor.”
Misha Armstrong is a medical student.
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