Maybe? It’s hard to say. I don’t think that I would want to go through the grueling pre-med process, interview season and what I have gone through now in medical school, but…I absolutely LOVE where I am now.
I am very proud of how hard I have worked these past few months to succeed in medical school. I love what I am learning both in the classroom and in the clinic. I love that there is a special nook for me and my love for science. I love that every morning I wake up eager to learn. I am also proud that aside from learning, I am heavily involved in my community. I am the leader of an organization that mentors students, I volunteer every other weekend at our free clinic, I play intramural sports, and I am also volunteering outside of school. Just because I am in medical school doesn’t mean that I have stopped doing other things that make me happy. I often make, probably too much, time for Netflix and watching sports but it is definitely worth it.
Like any other person in medical school, I have made sacrifices. At first you notice because it requires conscious awareness like saying no to someone’s birthday party. You feel bad but you decide that you need to prioritize your academics over practically anything else. You say to yourself, “my friend and family will understand.” And then they do. They no longer “bother” you anymore. You no longer receive “inconvenient” texts while you are studying for an important exam. Eventually you realize that a friend’s birthday has past and you didn’t receive an invite because they did not want to bother you. You knew you would say no. They knew it too. At first it hurts but then you move on from it because you are prioritizing school. As you keep turning down invites you learn to cope with the icky feeling that you are not being a good friend or daughter. Eventually you stop feeling guilty, which is pretty awful, but it happens (maybe not to everyone?).
Then there are sacrifices that you make to your relationships. While, yes some of my classmates are perfect children and they call their parents every day and see them every other weekend, that is not me. I try to see them often but sometimes I can tell that it is not enough. Of course they say that they understand, but I know that deep down they really do not. They don’t understand why I forget someone’s birthday or why I am reading flashcards in the passenger seat of their car. They tell me not to worry so much that I smart and I will do well. They tell me that they just want to see me happy and I love them for it but I just wish they could understand a bit more of what my classmates and I are going through.
I haven’t necessarily lost any friendships because of medical school but it has been a bit tougher to keep in touch. I mostly keep in touch by updating my snapchat and messaging friends through that app instead of skyping or even texting. Most of my friends are busy as well, teaching or also trying to get through some sort of graduate school. I have used breaks and long weekends to visit friends so these relationships seem okay still. Although sometimes when I get a life update from them it takes me a while to congratulate them or just even check in.
The relationship that I have sacrificed the most has been the one with my significant other. Although we live under the same roof, it is challenging (for me) to find time for just us. I unconsciously prioritize literally everything above my relationship because I know that he will understand, but that is greatly unfair. For example, during the weekend I generally have more “free time” and when I do not have an upcoming exam I use one of those days to volunteer and the other day I use to be lazy, or maybe study. Whenever I catch myself not prioritizing our relationship I apologize and my boyfriend reassures me that “It’s okay. You are in medical school, school comes first.” Which is true but makes me feel very crappy. I need to do better.
So my relationships take a burden but also my mental health. I am sleeping adequately averaging about 7-8 hours a night, even the night before an exam, so that is okay. The difficult part is the lack of time to learn everything. In undergrad you (usually) always had ample time to study and do well on an exam. In medical school, especially with an accelerated preclinical (1.5 years instead of 2), you have less time. Unfortunately, my school does not have protected study days, which means I could be learning material for my next exam, weeks from now, the day before my current exam. It is mentally exhausting knowing that you are preparing for exam, while also maybe a week or so behind on your next exam. I will sit in class for seven hours of lecture, get home review, and run out of time to preview the next day’s material. Then I go to class the next day and cannot focus because I have no idea what is going on because I did not pre-read. So I am behind. So I’ve had to learn to adapt and instead of going to non-mandatory classes I sit at the library and carefully go through the material and use outside resources, such as Pathoma and SketchyMedical, to learn the material on time and at my own pace. It gives me more flexibility because the way the curriculum is structured makes it extremely difficult to attend every lecture and perform well on exams, unless you just are this amazing standardized test taker (which I guess all of us should be since we did well on the MCAT, but still it doesn’t feel that way after you finish taking an NBME).
So what have I done for my mental health? Well I give myself flexibility with my schedule. I also make sure that I am always doing something, because I am the kind of person who needs to be doing a lot, but obviously not too much. I also give myself more room for error. So if it’s the night before an exam and I still don’t feel like I know everything, I give myself a deadline, usually 11pm, and I have to stop studying then. No matter what. If I don’t know it then I tell myself that it is okay because it is not worth sacrificing sleep over some extra information that I will probably forget tomorrow anyway.
One last thing that I have done is that every time that I say “no” to something or someone, I tell myself that it is me saying “you are not my priority” and that has made a huge impact in my life. For example, when my parent’s ask me to come over for dinner and I want to say no, I hear “my family is not my priority”. That makes me realize that I can’t say no, they are my family. So inadvertently I am learning to say “yes” to the important things in my life, my constants, the people around me that make me happy and are helping me achieve my goals.
So back to the beginning of this post. Would I do it all over again? I want to say no but ultimately it would be a yes? Am I happy? Absolutely. I am so happy. I am going to be a physician-scientist and that is very exciting. I cannot imagine doing anything else. So I guess, despite the sacrifices and how annoyed I might be at times, I love it. Deep down I love this path, despite how insane it can be at times. Hopefully for anyone in medicine, or considering medicine, this can give you some insight.