- Find a good doctor. I’m not sure where you live (health care systems are very different overseas), but the best thing I’ve done is found myself a general practitioner who understands mental health. Not only have they already made it through med school, but they provide someone you can talk to, and will understand it if you need to take days off. I’ve taken a few “mental health” days this year, and it’s provided me with a chance to look after myself and give myself a break from medicine. A good doctor will also be able to give you the right diagnosis—I went through about five doctors until I found my current one, and many of the others had no training in mental health and didn’t care about how I was feeling.
- Understand that feeling like crap is NOT a sign of weakness. For some reason, medical students understand that depression is a serotonin/noradrenaline deficiency, yet insist on berating themselves for not being able to control how they feel. It’s not your fault. If you need to take a night off studying, or take a bath, or go and see a movie, do it. We’re not superheroes. We’re students, and we do our best, and that’s all we can ever ask of ourselves.
- Reach out. Depression makes us feel alone. True story: I overdose a month ago. (A story I’ll share another day.) For me, that was the turning point—I told my friends. My parents still aren’t aware, but having some support and friends willing to listen to me has made a huge difference. You don’t need to tell them everything if you’re not comfortable, but even being able to admit “I’m not having a great day, do you want to get coffee?” to a friend can give you some sort of release.
- Know that med school isn’t everything. I know we all want to get top marks and be amazing and know all the things. But at the end of the day, when you graduate, you’ll forget staying up all night to study and going to lectures to sleep. You’ll remember the coffees and skipped lectures and patients you spoke to for hours, not about diseases, but about their grandchildren. Honestly, med school sucks. It’s ridiculous hours for not a whole lot of gain. But it will give you some amazing experiences you won’t get anywhere else. Remember to value that part of med school.
- Take a break. Go see that movie. Go out for lunch. Spend some time alone doing what you love that isn’t related to medicine. And don’t feel guilty for doing it.
- Be healthy. Go for a walk, eat well, listen to some music.
Anonymous asked: hi… i’m a firstie and all this studying is getting a little bit over my head, i don’t know whether i should study anat, or physio or bio-chem, how many hours would be enough or whether i would understand certain topics if i don’t know the topics related to it. i am soooo confused. what’s an ideal time table n good habits for medical students to follow?
The first year of med school is always the scariest. There’s so much to learn and it’s completely different to anything else and it all feels out of context. Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula for studying medicine. (I wish there was. My life would be so much easier if I could learn via diffusion.)
- Aim to do a little bit of studying each day, even if it’s just revising notes from the afternoon’s lectures or reading some anatomy. Little things add up, and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.
- Flashcards are great for rote learning. I swore by flashcards when I was learning sociology and key symptoms, and you can pull them out at any time. I was clearly the coolest kid in surgery last year, whipping out my flashcards between cases.
- Use colours. Bright colours can make even the most boring of notes more exciting. (I currently take a subject regarding administration in health care. I can only make myself study it because I’m allowed to use pretty colours for the titles.)
- Diagrams and pictures! Anything that is conducive to being in a flow-chart or diagram should be. It forces you to think about the information, and makes a great revision tool come exam time.
- If you are going to highlight, write notes in the margins to summarise, otherwise you’re going to have to read the text again.
- Have a to-do list and set deadlines (realistic deadlines, of course). Nothing gives you a greater sense of achievement than crossing something off your to-do list.
- Give yourself a break occasionally. Go watch Scrubs. It technically counts as studying, right?
- Talk about what you learn. Teach your goldfish anatomy. Interpret blood films for your computer screen. Get your friends to test you and have debates over the ethical issues of medicine.
Those would be my tips for studying medicine—also, these are the things I wish someone had told me in first year. I almost failed my first mid-semester exam in med school because I had no idea what to study or how to do it, so I really hope these help you!
See the previous post here.
Anonymous asked you: hi, it’s me again. maybe i don’t have depression. maybe i’m just.. deficient in coping with things. i’m not happy with how i’m handling problems- i’m a pro at running away and freaking out later. is a simple thing such as random tears, negative thoughts and inability to handle daily stresses a warning sign big enough for a visit to the doc? i keep thinking and worrying about flunking, about dropping medschool….
Dear anonymous (and to anyone else experiencing a similar situation),
The short answer is yes, you are completely justified in seeking help. I need both hands and both feet to count the number of times I’ve seen doctors and counsellors and psychologists because I wanted to drop out of med school, because I felt like I wasn’t coping, and damn it, everyone around me was doing so well.
Let’s be honest—med school is hard. I remember sitting in a lecture in second year, watching all the other students around me, and they were in perfect control of med school. They sat through lectures without falling asleep and without panicking about exams in two months and without being afraid of being judged, they took notes studiously and went home to their friends and family and lovers and siblings and maintained healthy relationships and seemingly flawless grades. It felt like I was the only one in a hall of hundreds of students that didn’t know how to make it through med school.
I spent an entire semester avoiding lectures and other students and hiding in the library because I thought I was crazy.
There’s something no one ever tells us about med school, and it’s this: we’re all struggling. I was having coffee with a colleague the other day, and he started to explain to me his struggles with depression, his excessive alcohol intake at the start of med school—and this is someone I’d always looked up to. Someone who, in my opinion, checked all the boxes: intelligent, kind, funny, surrounded by family and friends. And yet, he was someone struggling through med school as well. Very few med students wear their hearts on their sleeves—that’s why I keep this blog somewhat anonymous, because I’m still learning to let myself be vulnerable.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you’re not alone, and med school has the ability to make us our own worst enemies. But, at the same time, it doesn’t have to be the end of you. You don’t have to try and cope with these thoughts and feelings and fears alone. You, and every other medical student, every other health care student, every other person in general, are entitled to help and to have what’s going on validated. I can’t diagnose you with depression over the internet (or without a qualification of some sort), but whether you meet the criteria or not is irrelevant. You are allowed to seek help. You are allowed to talk to a professional and you are allowed to let them help you.
Please don’t struggle alone. Med school has no right to make you feel this way.
Take care of yourself and I hope you seek some help—talk to your family doctor or to your university health department.
My Life As A Med Student.
i’d like to ask, how would you advice a fellow medschool student to approach medstudent depression? i don’t know where else to ask. no one around me cared enough, parents are not reachable, and when i went to the psych dept, the head consultant had me take blood tests and declared my issues as a ‘transient’ thing. doesn’t change the fact that i’m struggling to cope, even if it feels like a complete journey to hell anyway.
Hi anonymous! Firstly, my apologies for not answering this sooner, and I do hope that things are better for you now. I don’t think there is a perfect way to approach med student depression—I have depression, and I’m still finding the means to navigate med school with it. However, let me share with you things I do to make it work (as much as possible).