Is apathy needed to survive medical school?

I’m about two-thirds of the way through my 3rd year of medical school, and I have hit my wall. I have become so fed up with the set up of medical school. I think a decent amount of this comes from the fact I am on my 6th week of an eight-week surgery clerkship (an area of medicine that I literally have zero interest in). I’m tired of waking up at 4 a.m. and wading through the unplowed snow so that I can get to the hospital before my residents and “get numbers” so they don’t have to.

I’m tired of the fact that the only reason I need to be on rounds seems to be to change wound dressings or ostomy bags that the residents don’t want to (they even joke about it to my face). I’m tired of standing in the OR for 10 hours per day in an environment where the attendings rarely even acknowledge my existence and almost always blatantly ignore my questions. I’m also tired of the double standards that exist within medicine. Attendings can show up more than an hour late on a regular basis and have no ramifications, and no one will say anything to them about their tardiness, but if I were to show up a couple minutes late, I’d never hear the end of it, and my clinical grade (i.e., my future) could be drastically affected.

While surgery for me has been the biggest culprit, other rotations are not without fault. As a medical student, it seems like we can never win. At the beginning of my medicine rotation, I was blatantly told by my senior resident that she didn’t want medical students to pick up patients that came in overnight, and that I should only pick up new patients on call days. I followed her directions, but when it came time for feedback, she apparently reported that I did not show enough initiative and should have picked up more patients. On a different rotation, I had a friend get feedback that he was “too enthusiastic.” What does that even mean? I always thought being enthusiastic was a good thing, but apparently, some people don’t think so.

People are always amazed by the incredibly high rates of burnout, depression, and suicidal thoughts that happen in medical students, but I’m not. Medicine seems to be a system that encourages apathy from students because that seems to be the only way to survive. Large parts of our clinical grades are determined by what a handful of individuals think of us, even though they likely didn’t actually spend much time with us. As a medical student, you need to develop an extremely thick skin and let the feedback you know is bull just roll off your shoulders because if you take all of that feedback to heart, burnout will follow. Medical school is an abusive environment, and you can’t speak out because no one will believe you over a resident or attending. As it stands, you just have to keep your head down, have a thick skin, and work towards changing this culture when you become a resident or attending.

The author is an anonymous medical student.

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