Richard Zhang

Richard Zhang

A PSA to all incoming M1’s: Congratulations! You’re in medical school. In just a few short years you’ll be a proper medical professional, saving lives, helping people, or achieving whatever your motivations were when you signed up for med school. (Until then, you’ll just be an incompetent pain in the side of your lecturers and professors, and later, an incompetent pain in the side of your residents and nurses.) But right now, I’m sure you’ll want all of your friends and family to know that you’re currently a ‘doctor-in-training’, so that they can be proud of your achievements too. That’s entirely fine – in moderation. In excess, there’s nothing worse than a medical student who can’t stop complaining/bragging/complain-bragging about the difficulties of med school. If you’ve ever unironically complained to someone non-medical about how difficult your studies are, and then when questioned further, replied “Oh, you wouldn’t understand”, please read on to figure out how to get it together and how to not infuriate everyone around you. If you’re an M2 or older, feel free to read on and cringe at the things you were (and maybe still are) guilty of too. 

  • Don’t give diagnoses 

This one should be pretty self-evident. Diagnosis is a job for doctors – you are a medical student. Do not introduce yourself as ‘doctor’ to people you meet, or worse, to patients. Do not do the jobs that a doctor should be doing. Even in your personal life, if your friends or family ask for your opinion on that itch that they have or that headache they keep getting, please do not say anything along the lines of “well it seems you have x”. When you are in the medical profession, the words you choose matter. Even without meaning to, when people ask you about symptoms and their likely outcome, if you give any answer other than a “you should speak to a doctor”, they will interpret it as fact, a diagnosis, a prognosis. Your job as a medical student is just to care when people have a problem – listen to their symptoms, empathise with their situation and offer your support. Under no circumstances should you fill the shoes of a real medical doctor. Instead…

  • Do encourage people to see a real doctor

Once you enter medical school, people will invariably want your opinion on their many ailments. The only way you can help those people? Refer them to a real doctor. There’s also a nuance to this particular point. If you simply raise your hands and say “I don’t know, go to a real doctor” whenever someone raises a concern, you will quickly find that your friends and family will lose faith in your judgement, and may also get offended along the way. Instead, listen carefully to what they have to say. Show them that you understand their concerns, but manage their expectations of you, and tell them that it’s in their best interests instead to seek the opinion of their family physician instead. By doing so, they’re much more likely to actually see a real doctor, and that’s the best way that you can help them as a medical student.

  • Don’t complain only about medical school

It’s the norm for medical students to complain about medical school to anyone who’ll listen. Medical school is absolutely very stressful – the pressure, the immense volume of content you need to know, the crushing debt. It’s understandable that you want to complain. The only trouble is, complaining constantly about the same thing to your non-medical colleagues will simply push them away. Would you hang out with your old college friend if all they did was moan and groan? Not only is it difficult for them to relate to your struggles, it’s also very difficult to like a whiner. So reserve those very valid grievances for your other med friends who’ll reciprocate in turn.

  • Do find excuses to catch up with old friends

It’s easy to lose perspective in medical school. It’s easy to lose the vision that motivated you to start medical school, and it’s easy to lose the ability to view things from a non-medical perspective. You might think now that there’s nothing in the world that could extinguish your passion and enthusiasm, but just like in all other aspects, medical school will probably manage to prove you wrong. The easiest way to combat this is simply to continue to stay in contact with your old friends. With the constant time pressure and the incessant need to study, many medical students grow distant from their peers and family that were probably the ones who motivated them to apply for med school in the first place. So set some time aside, and find excuses to catch up with your old buddies.

  • Don’t let medicine swallow your entire life and personality

Medical school is an all-encompassing black hole that will swallow you up and consume you if you give it the chance. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it – medical school is an incredible time and is so rewarding, but it’s important to not be sucked up into the vortex of never-ending study and stress. Try to stop yourself from becoming a one-dimensional med- school machine, and try to find time for the non-medical things you enjoy.

  • Do take regular breaks from medicine

One of the best ways to not let medicine swallow your entire life and personality? Take regular breaks from medicine. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be productive – just be productive at something else. That might come in the form of going to the gym (remember to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally), or even a part-time job that you enjoy. I tutor, and the time I spend tutoring is honestly a breath of fresh air compared to the non-stop mantra of ‘study, study, study’ that envelops me whenever I come within a ten-mile radius of my hospital library/medical school. 

  • Don’t dismiss the concerns or questions of your younger peers

You were once in their shoes, and you probably benefited from the advice of your senior peers. It’s easy to hear the seemingly obvious questions from those younger than you and scoff, but instead, take a minute to walk through their question on pathology, or talk them through their issues with their assignments. If you’re a first year and your juniors are asking for MCAT or interview advice, help them out. Not only is it the nature of medicine to be giving, but answering the questions about the basic sciences, interview etiquette, or writing case reports can help consolidate your own understanding of these important principles in your own mind.

  • Do go through your social media

This one seems obvious, but most people just don’t, for some reason. Make sure your social media is clean and respectful, without inappropriate posts. It shouldn’t be too difficult, and honestly, with all the pressures of medical school, I’m surprised any of you are managing to fill up your social media feeds at all. 

So there you have it. A complete guide to etiquette as a medical student in everyday life. I’m sorry if anyone was expecting a guide on how to conduct yourself inside the hospital, but feel free to check out Noon’s blog here for tips on conducting a good medical interview or Fatima’s blog here for tips on nailing clerkship evaluations in your third year.

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