The Real, Honest, Dirty Truth Blog Post
Real talk time: I have been feeling very lonely and reflective lately. Trying to balance learning how to be a doctor and everything else life throws at you. Feeling guilty for putting my efforts into learning how to be a doctor and not spending enough time with friends or family. Getting more frustrated than I should hearing about petty classmates trying to tear down my blog (…but they don’t actually read my blog, so I’m okay to share that here). I started this blog to share real stories about medical school and life. My blog is a BLOG. With writing. What helps me cope is focusing on being a real human and writing and speaking honestly. Life is too short for insecure, petty, talk. So with that– here is a real, honest, blog post about the battle that all med students face between being selfish and compassionate.
The Selfish Medical Student
I remember on the first day of orientation of medical school, one of our student advisors told us, ‘this is a time where you HAVE to be selfish.’ We all had talked to medical students or doctors… read med school blogs… and heard the rumors of just how difficult medical school is.
At this point, everyone in medical school is smart. But to be honest it really doesn’t matter how smart you are (to an extent). The shear volume of knowledge that you have to cram in your head is unbelievable. YOU will be the lead healthcare professional. YOU will make the final decisions. There will be no one above you to turn to, so you HAVE to know what you are doing. Someone’s life will be in your hands. Of course you can collaborate with other healthcare professionals and specialists (and I think it is such a crucial thing to do). But at the end of the day the patient’s life is in the hands of the doctor.
Selfish for what reason?
All that being said, medical school requires a ton of sacrifice. And if you are not ‘selfish’ you just won’t make it through. When our advisor told us we have to be selfish… he meant that you have to give up time with people you care about to study or be at the hospital. If you don’t you either a) just won’t make the cut and will fail. b) you won’t be good enough (either with test scores or clinical skills) to get into the specialty that you want to do. or c) God forbid, someone will die because of you.
There is an incredible amount of pressure put on medical students. Both because you are paying so much money and giving up so many years of your life… so you want to be able to do the specialty that you are passionate about. And even more importantly, people’s lives will be in your hands.
I have heard this from doctors and I am experiencing this for myself: no one will be able to understand what you are going through except for other doctors. You can explain how medical school and residency is, but actually experiencing the working on little to no sleep and making incredibly important calls is a whole different thing.
Medical school is like a big ‘ole guilt trip.
If you take a break from studying and do something fun, you feel guilty for not studying. If you study too much, you feel guilty for ignoring friends or family or putting off other things that you love. But the WORST is how forgetful medical school makes you. You are shoving in so much knowledge in your head constantly. Plus you have to be all bright-eyed and bushy tailed around every patient, attending, nurse, etc. For all the introverts out there… that takes a lot out of you.
At the end of your extremely long day filled with complex puzzle solving, being professional and smiley and kind to everyone… your brain is fried. Sure, you are ‘off,’ but your brain is full and you forget things. Birthdays. Responding to wedding invitations. Checking in with friends and family. It really feels like your brain is at max capacity and all you can do is fill it with medicine. Oh but by the way… you should also be studying for that shelf exam in a week or preparing for another round of never-ending board exams.
But are we also compassionate?
Okay so enough with this ‘medical school is draining’ rant. The point of this blog post is to bring up the balance between selfishness and compassion. You are forced to be extremely selfish in medical school. Yet, you are learning to work in (what should be) one of the most compassionate professions out there. You need knowledge and skill.. but what makes good doctors is compassion and a love for taking care of people.
It really is a confusing place to be in. Your family and friends think you are selfish and inconsiderate. And, why wouldn’t they think that? You forget important events, you spend more time studying than talking to them and you just don’t interact with them as much as you used to. The nurses and other healthcare professionals rolling their eyes at you because God-forbid you have to learn. So you feel in the way for just trying to learn how to take care of people in the best way possible. Then you have your patients thinking you are the most compassionate person and are so thankful for you caring for them. But in the back of your mind you feel so guilty for hearing these words because you know how selfish you are being to the friends and family that you care about the most.
So at the end of the day you are selfish to your loved ones and compassionate to strangers. It is hard to wrap your brain around sometimes. It’s even harder for friends and family to accept. So what can we do about this? First, absolutely take the time that you need to veg out and relax. But don’t overindulge– make time for loved ones. Having balance doesn’t come easy. And it will always be a balancing act to find balance. Imagine that. BUT, this is the life you have chosen. Make the most out of it in every way.