In these past four years, I have had the privilege of full-immersion into medical student culture and chaos. I thank my diligent, relentlessly-loving, soon-to-be Doctor Dan, as well as the incredible, open-hearted friends that I’ve made along the way for teaching me how to love better. Cheers to change!
M1 Year – Lower Your Expectations
This was a tough task to learn, let me tell ya! I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that the first wall we hit as a young married couple was my struggle to adjust to receiving less attention from Danny. When he started school, all of his free time became study time. We would spend a lot of time together in the same room, but I may as well have been in Jamaica for all he noticed me. When we did go out to eat or hang out, we would always talk past each other as though trying to compete for the “crappiest day award”. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was a lose-lose situation. As time passed, having less time together became the norm and we began to find ways to maximize the time that we did have.
If you’re trying to love your way through four years of medical school, you should most likely lower your expectations of your student doc in the following categories as well: spontaneity and fun-lovingness (this requires more energy than the typical coping mechanisms), overall appearance (caffeine +poor diet + stress + no time to exercise + stress = pale and… ahem, sloppy*), and ability to regularly communicate (sometimes, there are no words).
M2 Year – Get Comfortable, but Not Too Comfortable
As an M2, you feel like you’ve learned the ropes a bit, you’ve bonded with some fellow aspiring physicians – things start to feel more comfortable, like you actually might be able to make it through! (Aside: Then STEP 1 finds you sprawled out on the floor with every textbook you own flung open to expose you as the frightened, caffeine-addicted newbie you are*.)
To love a student doc at this phase, you should help them enjoy the moments of peace they have! Get them out of the books and back into the sunlight! Make time so socialize with others (inside and outside of med school), try new things, live a little! And try not to let them fall into the work, sleep, repeat cycle (even though they’re still at a REM deficit from M1.)
A Cautionary Tale: Danny and I spent a lot of these four years in a shameless cycle of coping mechanisms – i.e., watching too much television, stalking too much Facebook, and eating out too much. To some degree, I think this is just life as a young adult. When we come home exhausted, doing something edifying like taking a long walk, making a meal, or exercising feels impossible. Studying, cleaning or any other productive task also feels impossible, so we default to vegging on the couch because it doesn’t seem sane to go to bed at 7pm. As I said above, love your student doc in a big way by gently helping them push past this to more fulfilling modes of relaxation.
M3 Year – Listen Up!
For our darling docs-to-be, M3 year is their first “real” experience interacting with patients and physicians in a hospital setting. Expect them to contract at least 2 of the following 3 disorders (please note, this is not an exhaustive list):
- The “Why Does My Attending Hate Me?” Rant Syndrome – While some say teaching is an art form, there are members of the medical field that do not give a crap howyou learn what you learn, as long as you learn it. Thus, humiliation and indentured servitude are often considered fair game.
- Treatment: Lend an ear. Commiserate. Administer hug. Every. Day.
- “I Change My Specialty of Choice Every Other Rotation”-eria – If there were to be any one significant factor that seems to contribute to how a medical students really chooses their specialty of choice, I believe it boils down to a meaningful interaction with a doctor whose practice and lifestyle they admire. Naturally, these happen most frequently in 3rdyear, as all physicians know that this is when students are forming their ideas about what specialty they will pursue in residency.
- Treatment: Even if it drives you crazy – listen, share the excitement, and try not to get too attached to any one “future” yourself. Know that it can be easy for a cash-poor, debt-encumbered med student to be lured by the $$$ specialties. If you feel this is the case, gently inquire about the work-life balance. Even as a doctor, you can’t have it all.
- “No One Understands My Patient but Me” psychosis – This is a somewhat painful form of heartache that hits many medical students with varying degrees of severity. As idealistic young caregivers, it can sometimes be a brutal awakening to see the many flaws in the healthcare system, especially as they affect patients that are looking to these bright, young doctors for a degree of care that often exceeds their knowledge and authority.
- Treatment: Encourage your budding M.D. to never, ever lose that heart. That will be the diagnostic tool that never fails them when determining how to best “treat” a patient.
M4 Year – Prepare for Change
Even as you and your M4 relish the relaxed schedule and expectations of 4th year, you should be secretly stashing away extra calmness for the changes that lie ahead. So much of what takes place fourth year – the away rotations, the interviews, the second-looks – give the impression that their residency is, to a large degree, their choice. As the year goes on and your almost-resident submits his/her rank list, it’s difficult not to lay down some serious speculations! I encourage you, for you and your student’s sake, stay open to every possibility. Take it from me, and never say never.
*I share these truths out of love only
“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” -Tony Robbins