When people ask you what you do, no doubt you eagerly tell them that you’re a medical student and point out your ever-growing under-eye bags to emphasize the notion. Trust me, I’m guilty of it too. Going into medicine is a sacrifice. It’s a testament of time, money, patience, relationships, and so much more. I have never been so immersed with medicine and the whole community until I entered medical school, and now sometimes I feel like I’m in this weird hole of unending medical memes, and family and friends asking undulating waves of medically-related questions whenever they see me. I’m also guilty of making medicine all that I talk about because I have engaged myself into that world and turned it into this giant identity that looms over me that I too often feel is all people think about when they look at me.
But here’s a shocker…. Medicine is not the most important thing in the world and you shouldn’t let it define you. If you’re like me, you live, breathe, and sleep medicine. From the minute I wake up, to the minute my head hits my pillow, to the dreams (or more accurately nightmares) I have, my life is filled with school and medicine.
Obviously medicine isn’t something that you can do half-in, half-out, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you let define you. We perpetuate the idea that medicine is some higher calling that we are destined for and that it is our singular identity that we strive to attain. And we can’t blame ourselves, since in order to become a physician you are expected to be on all the time, and live and swear by writing exams. But I challenge you to find a different way to introduce yourself, and to have other things that define you, because it can help you become a well-rounded person, which can help you become an even better physician. The best physicians are those that understand where their patients are coming from, and you will never be able to do that unless you are able to understand how the rest of the world lives.
Here are some things you can do to help you become more than medicine!
Tip #1: Connect with people outside of medicine
Being in medical school exposes you to a very unique group of people. Most of your friends, peers, and people you interact with daily are going to be future physicians, however, 99% of the people in the world are not physicians. Therefore, our daily interactions, thoughts, and mindset are very skewed from that of the general public, and from those who will be our future patients. The only way to change that is to really connect with people outside of medicine. Talk to old friends that you had before medical school and rekindle that common ground. You’ll not only learn so much from them, but it will also make you realize that medicine isn’t the only thing that’s going on in the world. When I really need a break from medicine I’m always sure to keep in touch with my pre-medical school friends because it’s not only a lot less stressful than talking to my permanently-stressed medical-school friends, but it also allows you to understand the other very important things that people are doing in the world to keep it going. It helps to put things into a perspective and break up that tunnel vision that we constantly live in.
Tip #2: Travel or explore new places
It’s often easier said than done, but traveling and seeing new places is the absolute best way to gain a new perspective and understand the backgrounds that people may come from. Of course, traveling isn’t accessible to everybody, but luckily even just exploring different local neighborhoods can expose you to different groups of people. Traveling and exploring new places gets you out of your chair and really forces you to see the real world. As medical students, we too often live in our own little bubbles. Travelling lets you break that bubble, learn about new cultures, and definitely destress. Understanding how more of the world works is important for everybody, but definitely so for a physician where you’re interacting with so many different types of people daily.
Tip #3: Do activities when you can/on your breaks
FInd a new hobby or go back to picking up on an old one! Spend your few breaks not worrying about school, or the upcoming term, but spend time doing things that bring you new experiences. Try going skiing in the winter, or going for a hike during the summer. Try new foods, go swim in a lake, and just experience life. Start a new TV show or read a book (that’s not a textbook). Doing things lets you create new common ground with others which is also a plus! Try to enjoy wherever it is that you live for now by doing things that you can there. When you’re surrounded by people doing different activities it really makes you realize that it doesn’t matter what anybody does. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or not a doctor. Having hobbies other than medical school is also so important mentally. We all need the reprieve from the textbooks and the never-ending reddit posts.
Tip #4: Change your answer to “what do you do”
When people ask you “what do you do?” of course it’s fair to respond with “I’m a medical student” or “I’m a future physician”. However, more likely than not, we all have a reason that we went to medical school. Try evoking that into your answer so that you don’t simply claim medicine as your identity but something broader that medicine has allowed you to attain. Change your answer to “I’m passionate about helping children” or “I’m passionate about bringing wellness to others” so that you have a more generalized notion in your head without barring yourself down to “being a physician”. This lets you broaden your sense of what you do and really engage in life experiences that help you enhance that answer because at the end of the day we all had a goal when we entered medical school, and the endless work we have to do can make it all too easy to lose that.
Tip #5: Realign your priorities in life
What is it that you want to do 10 years from now? I think a lot of us would say “well I hope to be a practicing physician in the field I aspire to be in”. But think about what you really want to be doing 10 years from now. Do you imagine yourself living out in a suburb with a family and kids? Do you imagine yourself having pets? Do you imagine yourself living in a big city? In a rural area? Yes, we all aspire to be physicians soon, but there is so much more to life and sometimes it’s a good idea to pause and really think about what it is you truly want from this short life we have. This also serves as a reminder that we aren’t some ethereal higher beings, but that at the end of the day we are going to live our lives outside of our workplaces and it’s important to at least think about what we want that to look like.
There is more to life than medicine, and I think we all lose that at some point, when all we can seem to do is immerse ourselves in the never-ending stressful practice. I definitely don’t have any easy answers to evoking a life that is fulfilling and sustainable, but I think even just being aware that there is more to medicine is a huge first start, along with trying to practice these tips! At the end of the day, just like everybody else, we are humans first, and physicians second.