A letter to my sister (and all other first-year medical students)

Congratulations! At this point, you are almost halfway done with your first year of medical school. Either you have finally figured out what’s going on, or if you’re like me, you are still trying to figure it out. Relax, take a few deep breaths. Medical school is unlike anything you have ever done. The volume of information, constant testing, and overwhelming need to keep up with your peers is an enormous pressure.

By now you have probably heard, “just get through this module,” “the hardest part was getting in,” “survive anatomy.” If only it were actually that simple. I find myself saying to you far too often in response to your complaints, “Well that’s just how medical school is.”

Medical education has many flaws; I can not explain all of them to you and unfortunately many you will have to learn for yourself.  Do not let it steal your dreams. You may do poorly on a test, not get that summer internship, or drape a patient incorrectly. I promise it is not the end of the world.  Do not be afraid to challenge the system. You will be taught stereotypes about certain patient populations and a long list of questions you are supposed to ask patients. Take time to process this information. Some of it will make you uncomfortable, some of it will seem blatantly inappropriate. Pay attention to those reactions.

Do your best to not to be consumed by medicine. Read, study, learn, but make time for happy hour, self-care, and service to your community. No matter what anyone tells you, it is OK to take a break, take a “me” day, recharge. Medical school will make you feel inadequate, so you must remind yourself of all the things you are good at and surround yourself with kind hearts. You are more than just a medical student. Use your little free time to maintain hobbies or find new ones. Learn about the community around your medical school. You may never be able to completely understand your patients’ lives or struggles, but try.

The bright side? Life as a medical student gets better, so much better. You probably don’t believe me right now, but eventually, you will not stumble so much through a history, you will know what parts of the physical exam to do, you will begin to teach those around you. Some days your white coat will feel heavy. Your patients will share private details with you from their family history of heart disease to domestic violence. Do not judge and watch your facial expressions. Your job is to listen. You will watch a doctor walk out of a room while a patient is still talking. Resist the urge to blindly follow. You probably will the first time or maybe more; do not beat yourself up, just learn from your mistakes.

Remember, you are finally on the road to doing exactly what you want to do. There may be a few potholes, but the moment you finally hear a murmur, you watch a patient find out they have cancer, or a patient refers to you as their doctor, you will know you made the right choice. Ignore the doctor that asserts only some specialties are fit for women or insinuates that you are not worthy of your white coat. You are exactly where you are meant to be.

Misha Armstrong is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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