Medical education is a rigorous journey that demands dedication, resilience, and compassion. However, as medical students, we often find ourselves navigating through the pressures of this journey while silently grappling with our mental health. By sharing personal experiences and insights, I aim to initiate a candid conversation about mental health and advocate for positive changes within the medical community.
The weight of the white coat
The iconic white coat symbolizes not only the privilege of being a medical student but also the weight of the aspirations and expectations that come with wearing it. The coat adds to the pressure of appearing strong and invulnerable, thus deterring us from seeking help when needed.
As a medical student, I hesitated to reach out to my Center of Clinical Wellness fearing to admit I was inadequate. The sense of resiliency I had built up prior to medical school seems to be fading in the context of the pandemic and loneliness. However, attending my appointments, I discovered that I was not flawed but acknowledged my own limitations toward the circumstances of a drastic change in environment. I was empowered to contribute an internal newsletter that shared experiences of medical students at Rush Medical College reflecting on wellness. For the first time, I felt unburdened.
It is important to remember that as medical students, residents, or physicians, we are not immune to the emotional toll of our profession. The white coat does not shield us from the stressors of medical school, the emotional impact of caring for our patients, or the personal challenges we face outside the hospital. Embracing these vulnerabilities allows us to better empathize with our patients and colleagues while acknowledging our own needs.
Breaking down the stigma
Stigma around mental health remains a significant barrier for medical students seeking support. Fear of judgment or professional repercussions often leads to the concealment of emotional struggles, perpetuating the cycle of stigma. As future physicians, we find ourselves in a unique position where we must tread carefully about speaking about our challenges to others.
I vividly remember a moment during my first year of medical school when the weight of the pandemic, academic demands, and adjustment to Zoom were overwhelming. Like many of my peers, I hesitated to share my struggles openly when asked about our well-being in our small groups. It was the fear and judgment, as well as the potential impact on my professional reputation, that held me back. However, when fellow peers began opening up about their struggles, I realized that I was not alone in feeling overwhelmed. The vulnerability displayed by my peers showed me that there was strength in sharing our challenges, supporting one another through difficult times. Eventually, I shared my experiences and felt the weight lift off my shoulders, knowing that seeking help was not a sign of weakness but an act of courage.
We deny ourselves the opportunity for healing and growth by suppressing our emotions and struggles. The perception that medical professionals are immune to mental health challenges is flawed. While silently battling our own emotional burden, we contribute to the stigma rather than being part of the solution. By embracing our vulnerabilities, sharing our stories, and supporting one another, we can foster a culture that prioritizes mental health within the medical community.
Carter Do is a medical student.