Help While in Med School

by christine

A writer and medical student at an Ivy League school discusses learning in medicine—perseverance and engagement instead of burnout, gaining the tools for longitudinal learning and kindness to self.

This past week, the first-year med students had an important day in clinic. After several months of learning how to take a history and perform a physical exam, we finally were able to practice this with patients in the hospital, with the supervision of our faculty. There was a lot of excitement on that day, but also nervousness given our awareness that our knowledge is still so limited, and that we will certainly make many mistakes including in this first encounter.

The day went by, and afterwards, a small group of students gathered together for a reflection session. These sessions are our chance to talk about anything we want, and reflect on what we have been learning in the clinic. During that day’s session, we floated around a number of very different topics. From how we felt about working with patients for the first time, to how to stay happy and what that means for each person, to mindfulness and not losing sight of the present.

The session was valuable for me, and my takeaway was: It’s okay to share your feelings. It’s also okay to ask for help.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from these moments:

Even if you don’t know everything (or sometimes it feels like, anything at all), that’s okay.

It’s intimidating to perform a physical exam on a stranger when we feel like you still haven’t remembered all the components. We’re afraid we’re going to mess up and do something wrong. When a patient asks us questions, of course we don’t really have any answers yet, because we’re students who have just started med school. I know that sometimes it makes me feel incompetent or worried that I’m just not doing what I’m supposed to.

But the thing is, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. Everyone has to start somewhere.

It’s okay to mess up sometimes at first. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help—if someone asks you a question and you don’t know, say, “I don’t know, but I can try to find out.” If you don’t remember how to do something, ask someone else in the room like your preceptor for help. You’re here to learn, and others know that (even the patients), and they’re there to help you learn.

Share how you feel with your classmates.

You’re all in the same boat together. Even if you’re afraid of sounding cheesy or sharing too much, try to overcome that fear and reach out to others about how you feel. You might be surprised to see how many others share the same feelings and worries.

I feel that when I’ve reached out to others and was willing to share my struggles, we were able to form some of the most valuable connections. From the reflection sessions after clinic, to times when I simply tried to have a genuine conversation with a friend. I feel rewarded when we’re able to talk openly and honestly with each other.

Don’t be afraid of sharing your feelings—you may even be able to help someone else through your openness.  

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