This post isn’t meant to scare you away from medicine or give medicine a bad reputation. It is simply an honest and transparent reality. This here serves as anticipatory guidance so that there are no surprises.
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Nothing worth having in life ever comes easy, and medical school isn’t an exception.
What I know to be true is, you will reap the benefits of the fruits of your emotional, physical and intellectual labor.
So, here it goes:
1. You will lose friends.
To be honest there’s not a lot of people who can understand that your student life is a full-time job. Even one hour of your time is the most precious 60 minutes you’ve ever had. The amount of work that you can get done in an hour is immense and as a medical student, you know that time is precious. You’ll likely have to miss out on special occasions such as birthdays, girls nights, happy hours, phone calls and responding back to texts in a timely fashion. Not every friend can handle that. Sometimes they’ll see you “enjoying life” on social media and they may feel ignored. The truth is, you are simply prioritizing self-care on your own terms. A lot of people may side-eye you and assume you’re being standoffish. But truly, your thoughts are in relative shambles. You really have to learn how to manage and balance so many things at once. Your social life takes a backseat to everything else going on. It’s okay. Those who understand are worth your time and those who don’t, can hit the highway.
2. You will burn out.
You enter medical school gleaming with passion and enthusiasm, smiling ear to ear at your achievements until the fateful day that you…burn out. It happens to the best of us. Many times, burn out is a temporary purgatory, but for some, it becomes a functional lifestyle. Fortunately, the first step in treating burn out is realizing that you’re burned out. From there, you have to give yourself the necessary rest period. After all, you’re just in medical school and you have so many years ahead of you to become a licensed physician. There’s medical school and then there’s residency, possibly fellowship and then the rest of your life as an attending. If you’re burning out now, what’s going to happen when you’re actually on the patient wards and patients need you? It’s so important that you build in some “me time” and self-care whether it’s once a week, once a day or once a month to forego studying. Dr. Wekon-Kemeni, a Pediatric Resident at UNC Healthcare talked about how he makes time for himself while adjusting to a rough start during his intern year. This is the time to do things you love and combat your burn out. Dr. Rammelcamp, an Internal Medicine physician talks about how she experienced burnout during her third year of medical school in her article affectionately titled, ‘I cannot pretend I enjoyed medical school’.
3. You will be VERY single or hardly see your significant other
Medical school is a full-time commitment. Relationships are also a full-time commitment. Some students are fortunate enough to enter medical school married or living in the same state with their significant other. Most students maintain long-distance relationships. Clare, a medical student blogger at “Fitting it all in” said “the unknowns about the future can be stressful” in her post about maintaining long-distance relationships in medical school. When you factor that with an 8-hour study block, 12-24 hour hospital shifts, sleep deprivation and high stakes exam anxiety, it is enough to put a strain on any relationship.
4. You Will Doubt Yourself… ALOT
With each and every exam that comes, there’s a level of anxiety. Sometimes you do well and sometimes you don’t. There will be an exam that you totally fail. For some people, there can be so many underlying circumstances as to why that happens. Whether it’s the way you studied, personal issues or health issues, it can be really unsettling. From there, you begin to question whether or not you’re doing enough and whether or not you’re going to make it through. Imposter syndrome will creep up on you. You’ll question if you deserve to be here or if you’re smart enough to become a doctor. The answer is YES! Just know that you’re not in this alone. Everyone is not going to share their insecurities but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Even Dr. Laura Lacquer, a highly popular dermatologist, Harvard grad and mega influencer experienced self-doubt in her second year of medical school which almost made her change career paths.
5. You will be in hella debt.
Despite, the select tuition-free schools like NYU Med who are making medical education more affordable, the costs of medical school is steadily increasing. So much that experts are asking is it still worth it to go to medical school? According to the AAMC, Medical school will leave you in $200,000 of debt for the average student. An article on KevinMD, stated that the cost of attendance for medical school tuition routinely is in the mid-5 figures, with some institutions now costing almost $100,000 per year to attend. Now, this figure includes the cost of living, textbooks, board exam prep, board exam registration, residency application, and interview fees. Nonetheless, it is up to you what’s more important. If you’re going to allow loans to hang over your head and be the determining factor in becoming a doctor, so be it. I don’t recommend such an attitude but to each their own. While the debt is massive, the reward is even bigger. In due time, you’ll be making a great living, doing what you love the most.
6. You will struggle with motherhood
Although there are many mothers in medical school, I know most will agree that it is not easy. To be honest, when I switched careers to go into medicine, I was concerned about my biological clock. I began calculating how long it would take me to complete medical school in order to have a baby within the “optimal” time frame. Truthfully, I had some doubts about whether I was making the right decision. As career women, we have a lot to think about as far as starting and raising a family. We want to be present and we want to have it all. We definitely can, but it comes with much sacrifice. In this inspiring OpEd, Dr. Lisa Antoinette Baracker spoke about how medical school tried to break her down but she prevailed because of …motherhood. She also speaks about the discrimination women in medicine face which makes some women delay motherhood or hide their pregnancies for as long as possible. Here’s some advice from 10 moms in medicine.
7. You will have FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
You’ll see your high school and college friends settled in their careers and starting families while you’re still pulling a 24-hour shift at the hospital training. You won’t see real doctor salary until about 8 years after medical school. Your first paycheck will suck, once Sallie Mae takes her cut. The fear of missing out isn’t just fear but a reality. You’ll miss out on Birthdays, weddings, and sadly, funerals. You may have people who you wished you could’ve spent more time with before they passed and you’ll never get that chance again. Personally, I wish I could’ve spent more time with my grandmother before she passed. I didn’t have much time to process death, grief, and life because exam schedules and deadlines are unforgiving. There will be memories, you’ll never make and time you’ll never get back. Some days may blend into others but it’s up to you to make everyday count.
While these 7 truths are evident, you will live to tell the story. You will soon be living your dream of being the most highly revered and respected professional in the world.
Hang in there my fellow Medical folks, we got this!