I’ve spent the last few weeks on psychiatry placements. It’s been crazy, confronting, and not the ideal place to be when you’re struggling with your own mental health issues.
A friend was telling me about her psychiatry placement recently, and the way she spoke indicated how much it had affected her. She’s normally very giddy and very child-like, but when she talked of her patients, she was solemn and soft-spoken. She told me this story weeks and weeks after she’d met this particular patient—she hadn’t been given a chance to debrief.
That’s when it struck me. As medical students, we’re given little, if any, support. We see the best and the worst of the human experience on the wards. We see mothers give birth, but we also see parents lose children. We watch as people are given hope, but we also see them lose it. We’re allowed to read the stories of our patients’ lives, but they don’t always have a happy ending.
This isn’t to say med school is bad. But without support, it can be devastating. There is a reason why medical staff have higher rates of mental illness, of substance abuse, of suicide, compared to most of the general population. Perhaps this predisposition towards insanity is exactly what makes for a good medical student: we’re perfectionists, we’re people-pleasers, we’re somewhat masochistic with our long days and even longer nights, notes sprawled across our desks.
I believe that we need to promote wellbeing in the medical culture. I believe that, as medical students, as healthcare students in general, we need a place where it’s okay to talk about patient experiences and the emotions they inspired. We need to make it okay to cry after a long day of observing life and death within hospitals. Self-care needs to be something that is taught alongside clinical placements, not as a tokenistic gesture in the pre-clinical years.
I know that getting up tomorrow and attending to the psychiatric wards will be a battle. I know that talking to the patients will be triggering, and it will be hard to hear their stories. But if I walk out to my car on the verge of tears, and breakdown on the drive home, I know that’ll be okay. Because it’s okay to be affected by your patients. It’s okay to need to talk and to be emotional. It’s okay to take a night off studying if you find yourself needing to get away from medicine for a few hours.
Take care of yourselves out there.
Tagged as: med school. medical school. mental health. psychiatry. medical students. health. take care. self-care.
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