Medical school can strip you of everything you have. As you’re doing everything you can to help others, there can be so many levels of dissatisfaction with your career choice and distress around going through medical training.
But what I found was that there was always my loving family to return to whenever something was going particularly poorly. My family was also always there for my successes, which I found to be helpful.
During my first year of medical school, I often didn’t see my family until later in the year. However, I found some helpful tips and tricks on maintaining bonds with my family despite being particularly busy during the year.
1. Pick a medical school close to home. I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where there was an excellent medical school I was accepted to and happy to attend that was in the same town where I grew up.
But no matter where I would have gone to school, I know that family and relationships were an integral part of my success as a medical student. I had family I could turn to who would be in the same town where I could quickly go home and spend time with.
After most of my exams, I would have breakfast with my family and celebrate my successes or mourn my failures. I would talk about how I wanted to go forward.
My family never missed a birthday, and I always got to have dinner with my family on the times when I wanted to do so. I really loved these moments that I had with my family members, and they were some of the most important times in my adulthood so far.
There was so much going on in everyone’s life that it was nice to be able to quickly catch up with everyone at any time that I was free, even if I had just a few minutes.
It also made the thought of living at home a real possibility. I never lived at home during medical school, but I always wanted that option to be available to me in the event that I ever ran out of money and needed someplace to stay.
2. Schedule times together. Every Thursday night, I have dinner with my mom and my sister. It’s what I look forward to for the majority of the week whenever I am feeling down about anything and want to run something by my family.
I know that I may not be able to spend a considerable amount of time with them during the remainder of the week, so this is the time I have with my family, considering a busy work schedule that many of us have.
I hope I can continue to keep these appointments with my family throughout my time in residency, but I know I will try since I know how important it was for my functionality.
Your scheduled time together can look like anything and may change as you find different things you enjoy doing with your family and other loved ones.
3. Prioritizing vacation time. There is very limited time to vacation during medical school. Almost all of the time I was spending on vacation was just trying to recuperate. As a medical student, I found that intentionally trying to spend time with my family when I had vacation time was helpful to me.
Would we take a family vacation together? Would we just spend time around our house together? I mentioned to my family that they and my partner were my best friends, and I wanted all of us to spend time together, all under the same roof.
We all love each other very much, and there is love and kindness when we are all working together. I also promote my family bonds with my partner by planning specific vacations and trying to make the most of the time we have together.
4. Plan what you will do with your family. When you have time that you can spend with your loved ones, plan ahead on places you’d like to go or things you would like to do.
These may be some of the only times during medical school that you’re able to spend with your family. So it’s valuable to have an idea of what you’d like to do ahead of time.
I often planned which restaurant I was going to with my family or if there were specific movies we would want to watch with each other. I also thought about which meals I might want my mom to make for me. I was always happy that I had a plan, and I felt like I was getting the most out of the interactions I had with my family.
5. Involve them in your decision-making. Families know that as we grow up, it may become more challenging for us to make decisions on our own, and there may be a lack of transparency and inclusion of the family in these decisions.
Intentionally including your family members with whom you are close can help to ease any tension that may arise between you and the family as you get busier in your life.
As I got older, I found that maybe my family didn’t know everything, but they knew a lot, and they at least didn’t have my myopic view on the situations in which I was finding myself. They could zoom out and tell me about the mistakes they had made and how I could avoid making further mistakes.
Maintaining family bonds can be hard when you’re busy! But making a commitment to your family can be one way to make it through the trying journey and help relieve a sense of stress. Following some of these tips will help to relieve some of the stress associated with learning and may be valuable in helping you move forward.
Micaela Stevenson is a medical student.
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