Medical student: “I was less stressed in Afghanistan.”

Dear Pamela,

Let me start off by telling you that I am a warrior, a protector, and a healer. I am an Army veteran. I’ve worked as an EMT, completed a bachelor’s degree and two years of medical school, plus I’m raising a family. I’ve achieved amazing things, but I have never been defeated like I’ve been over these past few years.

Honestly, I was less stressed in Afghanistan. Medical school is worse than my deployment experience.

It’s not easy to share this so bear with me. When I finished undergrad, I decided to be a doctor. So off I went. Completed my sciences at a local community college, volunteered at hospitals, and worked as an EMT to beef up my resume for med school applications. I got all my applications in then boom: I was deployed to Afghanistan. I was recruited to deploy with military police as a combat medic. During the first few missions, I was scared for my life. After that, I became numb to that fear and just focused on making sure I was able to save my guys’ lives if we were attacked. The stress was incredible, but I had their back, and they had mine. In an unsafe country and a future filled with uncertainty, I felt secure because we supported each other.

Once I was home, I started medical school, and I was so excited! I was finally living out my dream. I’ve always been able to make friends with no problem, and I’ve always done well in school, so I was good to go. I am not the traditional medical student. I’m 30 with a family, and it turns out my life is very different than my peers, so I isolated myself. The course material was incredibly difficult for me. I struggled. I barely passed some exams and always wondered if I would make it to the next course. I worked so hard to do well, but couldn’t hack it. I was just in awe at how much more intelligent everyone else around me was.

This was it; I had put all of my eggs in this basket, and my basket was falling apart. I cried almost every single day. My family was there to support me, but no one could understand what I was going through. Or so I thought. I never really opened up to other medical students because they seemed so smart and were doing well. It was bad. Here’s the worst part: I thought it would be easier to die than continue living like this. I started to see a therapist, and we identified that I was persistently depressed and passively suicidal.

I know I’m a strong, intelligent woman. But medical school broke me down.

I’m in my 3rd year now and have realized what is most important to me: self-care, my family, and close friends. I can’t help others at my own expense anymore. I get that I’m learning information that will save people’s lives, and I need to take it seriously. Believe me, I do. Yeah, I get nervous that I will be pimped and not know the answer to a question or do badly on a test again. But I am done letting that stop me from living a life I love. Regardless of my transcript and test scores, I will be an amazing doctor! I already make a difference in people’s lives and will continue to do so.

I hope other medical students can learn something from my story. You are all amazing! Please take care of yourselves.

Pamela, thank you for standing up for us. It means the world.

Sincerely,

Michelle

Suicide is an occupational hazard in medicine. Let’s talk about it.

Pamela Wible pioneered the community-designed ideal medical clinic and blogs at Ideal Medical Care. She is the author of Physician Suicide Letters — Answered and Pet Goats and Pap Smears. Watch her TEDx talk, How to Get Naked with Your Doctor. She hosts the physician retreat, Live Your Dream, to help her colleagues heal from grief and reclaim their lives and careers.

Image credit: Pamela Wible

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