Medical School Survival Tools

“How’s medical school?”

This simple question is often one of the first asked in conversations with family and friends. Some days I can honestly answer, “It’s going well. Thanks for asking.” Other days, it’s all I can to do suppress the urge to grunt and say, “Please don’t make me go back.”

As I near the end of my first semester, I’ve come to realize that my perception of medical school changes quickly and often. Factors including the amount I’ve slept, whether or not I’m caught up on lectures, and the presence or absence of external issues (family, relational, etc.) have a profound impact on how I perceive the daily stressors of medical school. At times, medical school seems to be the most fascinating and fulfilling endeavor in the world. Other times, I lose sight of the forest for the trees, seeing only my list of assignments and tests that lie ahead. After wrestling with these ups and downs for the past four months, I’ve found three means useful in working through the rough patches of medical school.

1. Be thankful
During times of high stress, I tend to let thankfulness go by the wayside. However, taking a moment to stop and reflect on one’s blessings can reframe a difficult situation. By being accepted into medical school, I’ve been given an opportunity that is available to only a fraction of a percent of the world’s population. Daily, I learn about the intricacies of the human body: its design, its failings, and what we can do to treat it. Simultaneously I am equipped with the various skills I will need to one day assume the intimate role of a caregiver and physician. Though classes challenge (and at occasionally frustrate) me, I am undeniably blessed to be a medical student and a future doctor. To attend medical school is a gift that I am deeply grateful to have received.

2. Look past the temporal
Taking a step back to look at problems in a larger context has been an invaluable exercise this fall. As a Christian, part of living my faith in medical school means examining situations in the context of eternity. Doing so helps me remember why I am in medical school and what I am to focus on during my time there. Looking at my problems, failures, and successes in the context of eternity brings relief and humility; each appears infinitesimal compared to God and His sovereignty. I am reminded that my hope and identity are rooted in someone far greater than myself and my achievements: Jesus. Finally, looking past the temporal cultivates thankfulness as I recognized God’s innumerable provisions in my life.

3. Admit weaknesses
This is arguably the most difficult, as it requires the laying aside of one’s pride and the willingness to be honest with self and others. Going into medical school, I felt like I had my life together. I was a young man with a college degree who cooked, cleaned, and was beginning to exercise regularly. I had a pretty good handle on “adulting,” if I do say so myself. Then classes began. After the first two weeks, I felt as though I had been run over by a small freight train. Suddenly I was expected not only to “adult,” but to do so while drinking out of a fire hydrant of information that I had to learn and apply on regularly scheduled tests. As I’ve gradually improved at balancing life and school, I’ve become acutely aware of how weak I am. I could not survive medical school on my own. Admitting my weaknesses and need for help to God, family, and friends, has resulted in the formation of a strong support system, with individuals who are aware of my struggles and willing to talk, pray, and assist in any way they can.

I have by no measure fully mastered the intellectual and emotional roller coaster that is medical school. I still get stressed and am prone to fall into cycles of frustration, often ignoring my own advice to be thankful, to look past the temporal, and to admit my weaknesses. However, I am growing and progressing. My hope is that others will find encouragement in my writing, and that together, we can work toward creating a culture of healthier medical students and physicians.

Guest Post – by Wayne Grey

MD/PhD student – Class of 2020

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