Response to a Medical Student in Pain

This evening, I read a post by a medical student on KevinMD.com, a social media platform of voices in health care. The post is written by a woman who finds herself feeling alone, depressed, desperate, and afraid of losing herself as she goes through medical school (the post may be found here: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/09/never-understood-loss-empathy-medical-training-now.html).

This post is my response to that woman.

Dear Colleague and Friend,

You are not alone.

You are far from home. You are far from your family. You are far from the desert, the open sky, the beauty of vast open space. And you have discovered a new desert, a new open space inside of yourself. You feel alone.

But you are not alone.

You have seen the business-ification of medicine, the reduction of education to rubrics, and have felt the isolation of having your feelings categorized as solely intrinsic, with the concomitant dismissal of the thought that much of the problem may be extrinsic. You feel alone.

But you are not alone.

There are many of your med school colleagues who feel as deeply as you do, who cherish their time connecting with their patients, who struggle with existential questions and resent the relentless pace and endless volume of information thrown at you. You were studying in your apartment for two years while many of these colleagues were complaining amongst themselves while studying together or while out at the bar on a weekend. Find these people now. Join a study group. Start a study group. Join one of your med school organizations. Join another one. And another one. And another, until you find the people you need to find. And drop the organizations that don’t have the people you need.

You are not alone.

There are people who have been through this before you. Find them. Talk to residents. Talk to attending physicians. They have been down this path. Some of them will have had a similar journey to yours, and can help you navigate your way through. Some are jerks. Stay away from the jerks.

You are not alone.

Keep speaking to mental health care professionals. You’ve spoken with the school counselors – ask them for a referral to a psychologist or to a psychiatrist who does therapy. If you don’t like the first person they send you to, get a referral to another. It might take a few tries to find the right person. When you get yourself as healthy as you can be, you will be best able to help fix the flaws that you are finding within the system.

You are not alone.

There are others outside of your profession who you may find yourself being the closest to. That they have not walked the same educational and career path that you have does not mean that they cannot empathize with and connect with you on a fundamental level at the core of your soul. Call your family and friends. Vent to them. Listen to their venting. Share jokes with them. And find new friends geographically close to you – join a religious institution, a volunteer organization, a community center. Some people will not click with you. Some will.

You are not alone.

Not everyone who starts out in medicine stays in medicine. It’s ok to go in another direction if that is what you ultimately chose. No matter what kind of flak you get from others, it is your choice. You do not need to defend your choice. Know in your heart that education is never wasted – every piece of information that you’ve learned, every struggle you’ve gone through, every book that you’ve paid for, every exam you’ve studied for and taken, contribute to the overall gestalt of who you are, of what you know, and of how you interact with the world. The paths a person takes give that person perspective and wisdom.

You are not alone.

The desert inside you needs a quenching rain. May you find it during the leave of absence you are currently taking. May you re-connect with those close to you from that other life before medical school, which seems a world away but is as close as a phone call. May you visit your family’s home and take in the view of the physical desert and open sky, which can quench your inner desert like a tall glass of ice tea.

You are not alone.

You are a writer. Keep writing. Share your writing. And read. Not textbooks, but books, articles, blogs. Find the voices that speak to you, and speak back to those voices and about those voices.

You are not alone. And I wish you the very best.

1 thought on “Response to a Medical Student in Pain

Leave a Reply to H Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *