It’s not uncommon to hear medical students complaining about how medical school has ‘ruined their life’, but if you look past the melodrama and the whining-for-the-sake-of-it-ness, there actually is some truth to how medical school has ruined my everyday perception of life outside of medicine. I have definitely developed a few bad habits thanks to medical school, which I’ve had to work very hard making conscious efforts to correct. I thought I would list some of these bad habits here so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Seeing family and friends as risk factors rather than people
It’s easy to panic and get anxious when you see your friends vaping or your family members gulping down a dozen servings of ice cream in one sitting despite having pre-diabetic fasting glucose levels. Given how easily med students give in to hypochondria (I diagnosed myself with two rare metabolic disorders in a single study session once), it can similarly be very easy to reduce the people you care about to nothing more than their worst unhealthy behaviours. This can be very hurtful and can sour your relationship – think how annoying it would be if someone only identified you as the bookworm at the bottom of the hospital hierarchy with no social life. It’s important to remember that these are the people you care about, and not just nameless risk factors that you have to correct and worry over.
Wanting to correct every negative behavior or habit
Just like how you shouldn’t reduce your friends and family to risk factors/potential patients, you should also try to keep your patient education urges in check. Constantly nagging at your friends and family to eat healthier, exercise more, or reduce their smoking/alcohol intake can similarly come off as incredibly self-righteous and obnoxious, and can drive a wedge between you. It’s important to remember that just like your patients, your friends and family have autonomy, and while it’s good to ensure they are aware of the consequences of their behaviour, you should respect the choices they ultimately make.
Uncertainty in decision making SOMETIMES
It’s true that medicine allows you to think faster on your feet. You get a lot of practice at having to act decisively and make snap judgements in high-stress situations – for instance, answering the questions the attending is hurtling at you as you are being pimped, or making sure you carry out all the steps correctly in the basic life support sequence. However, medicine has also made me afraid to commit to a lot of answers. Any time someone asks me a simple question, I always feel the need to have all the information before I answer, thanks to how much the importance of having an evidence-based answer has been drilled into me. Any time anyone asks whether I think Tom Brady might finally retire this year, I feel hesitant to answer before consulting with the Cochran library. So while it is important to know the facts before speaking, also try to remember that it is ok for you to be decisive and try to eliminate that inherent uncertainty you feel whenever you’re answering a simple question.
Developing a ‘righting reflex’
How many times have you automatically corrected a non-medical friend/acquaintance that said something about the human body that wasn’t entirely accurate? If that number is anywhere above one, those friends probably already think you’re an obnoxious know-it-all. Let your friends think that the thymus and the thyroid are the same thing, and let Amy Shark think that her veins pump blood to her throat. Just remember how annoying it is when your marketing or finance friends try to work the words ‘synergy’, ‘unlimited potential’ and now ‘NFTs’ into every conversation, and just aspire to not be like that.
Fearing almost every previously-fun activity
Medicine has absolutely ruined all fun activities for me. It has given me so many brand new fears about almost everything worth doing. For instance, if my friends ask if I want to go hiking, I automatically worry about getting Lyme disease or giardiasis. I used to want to go skiing/have a motorbike/do any kind of adrenalin-inducing extreme sport, but now I just think about all of those compound fracture presentations I’ve seen in emergency. I used to want to go to the zoo and see all the animals, but now I’m worried about hypersensitivity pneumonitis and tularaemia. Also, since I live in Australia, we have koalas in the exhibits and while you’re allowed to hold and pet the little baby koalas (who could resist that?), I’m also terrified because koalas are notorious for getting chlamydia outbreaks. Not much reflection here – I’m just scared of a lot of things now because of medicine.
Becoming cynical about almost anything positive, because medical students can’t have positive things
This is pretty self-explanatory. We see too much negativity and experience so much stress and hardship during med school that anything initially positive seems to have some kind of hidden catch. Think about all the times your supposedly free lunch was interrupted by a pharmaceutical sales rep trying to push an agenda on you, or the times that you thought you took a perfect history, only for the attending to come in and listen to the patient change their entire past medical history/announce eight new medications they failed to mention to you. While this is all too common in med school, try not to let it bleed into your everyday life.
Being jealous of your friends’ relaxed lifestyles instead of simply taking the time to relax yourself
Perhaps my biggest toxic trait. Especially during the early years of medical school, I definitely spent a lot of time being jealous after hearing about the parties my non-medical friends went to or scrolling through social media and seeing all the fun adventures they had without me. Realistically, I probably did have enough time each week to spare to engage in at least one or two of those fun activities, but instead of going out and joining them or taking a day off to do the things I enjoy, I simply found it easier to look at the lives my friends lead and wish to have something like that too. Now, I’ve definitely reflected and improved a bit (mostly driven by occasional bouts of burnout), but I do regret not properly taking my own personal time off earlier in med school to relax and enjoy life a little more.
So there’s a pretty extensive list of all the things that have changed in my personal perception of everyday life thanks to med school. It’s probably too late for me to go back and rectify some of these, but it might not be too late for you. Try to reflect on your own perspectives, and make sure you’re not becoming a more cynical and anxious person like me.