7 things I didn’t want to hear as a struggling medical student

June 06 2015 | by By Dr. MJ

When you are a struggling medical student as I initially was, there are certain things you do not want to hear. Whether it is advice from well meaning people or just offhand comments from other classmates, some words are especially painful - at least they were for me. That isn't to say that there wasn't merit in some of the comments, but at that particular time, the words just stung.

Looking back, I know that people said these things with the best intentions. They were truly trying to help, but they did not have any frame of reference for my situation.

You just need to relax and calm down.

Relax and calm down? Are you serious? I am drowning here. I am in panic mode. Relaxing and being calm are not in the equation. Anytime that I do take time away from studying, I am panicking that I am not studying and am worried that I am forgetting everything that I just reviewed. No matter what I do, I can't get ahead of the material.

I do acknowledge that it is crucial to find a balance between being relaxed and being anxious when you are in medical school. A certain level of anxiety is helpful to stay motivated and prevent procrastination and a certain level of relaxation is needed to be able to digest and absorb the material. But when I was struggling so much to just stay afloat, having people tell me I just needed to simply relax did not do any good.

I know how you feel - I am terrified that I won't get an A.

(I attended a school that had traditional letter grades - A, B, C and fail).

One time, I admitted to a fellow student that I was worried about my grades, and this was the response I got. It took all my self control to not grab him and yell, "I am just trying to PASS. I am praying for a C. So no, you do not know how I feel!"

Don't worry. Somehow things always come together right before the test.

No, not always. Maybe for you but certainly not for me. I barely passed the last exam and did not pass the exam before that one. What are you doing that allows everything to always come together before the test? What am I doing wrong?

Are you really sure you want to be a doctor?

Truthfully, right now, no, I am not sure I want to be a doctor. I am not sure about anything. All I know for sure is that I just want to get through the next exam. I can not think of anything other than surviving the maelstrom of material that is being thrown at me and I really have no idea how I am going to do that.

Of course, it is not a bad thing to assess whether or not this goal of being a physician is worth the sacrifices it is requiring, but when I was in the middle of an avalanche of anatomy to memorize, I was not in a position to rationally answer that question.

If it is so bad, just quit.

You don't think I haven't thought about it? I think of it multiple times a day. But this isn't like dropping a class in college. I have wanted and worked for this opportunity for so long. I was studying for the MCAT while my friends were having fun at the bar. I was memorizing physics equations in the summer when people were on vacations. In short, I have given so much of my life to this goal. I just can't walk away.

Maybe you should be working harder and putting in more time.

But I can't work any harder. I have worked harder than I ever thought I could. All I do is study. I don't watch TV, I don't read books for fun, I don't exercise, I can barely sleep. Even my dreams are med school related when I actually do sleep a bit. My friends are texting me to see if I am still alive because I never respond. I'm convinced my parents think that instead of starting med school, I actually entered the witness protection program because I have basically disappeared. In short, I do not know how I could work harder and I certainly do not know how to put in anymore time.

Don't worry, you will be fine.

Honestly, this comment bothered me the most. Because I knew in my heart that I was not going to be fine. Maybe everyone else would be fine, but not me. If anything, I really wanted to know what these people were doing that allowed them to be "fine".

I'm sure that others who were in a similar medical school situation can add additional comments that were tough to hear. What were the comments that bothered you the most?

Dr MJ is a recent graduate of an eastern US allopathic medical school who was helped by The STAT program. She is now a psychiatry resident in the Midwest. Feel free to contact her at [email protected].