Medical Student Perspectives: What Should I Do If I Need A Doctor?
Medical students are famously susceptible to “medical student syndrome”, in which they perceive to experience whatever illness they are studying at the time. Despite being involved in a health care profession, medical students are not exempt from actually getting sick. In fact, during clinical rotations greater exposure to infectious agents may put trainees at a greater risk than those in the general population. It is an inevitable reality that all physicians at some point in their careers will come down with an illness. Therefore, it is important to think about both your professional responsibility to your patients and colleagues and your personal obligations to your own health and well being.
Be Aware of Your Health Insurance Policy
Health insurance is a necessity for everyone, even medical students. Typically, medical schools require proof of coverage for all students as a basic entrance requirement. Understanding your health insurance policy is almost equally as important as having it. Most health insurance companies have online resources to help you familiarize yourself with the basic points of your health insurance policy. Take a moment to see you can answer the following questions:
- Where do I go if I get sick?
- How much of the cost for regular visits am I responsible for?
- What is my deductible?
- What is my maximum coverage?
- What happens to my coverage if I travel abroad?
- What types of services are covered? What types of services are not covered (e.g. dental, vision, mental health, etc.)?
- Where do I go if I get sick after hours?
Know Your Medical School’s Policies on Taking Sick Leave
All medical schools have specific requirements and reporting guidelines regarding students’ need to take time off. Make sure you are aware of your school’s specific guidelines and also who to contact in the event that an illness arises (i.e. deans, administrators, course directors, etc.). It is important to be aware of these policies before you are not feeling well, as it is often difficult to determine the appropriate actions when you are ill.
Determine Whether a Mild Illness Will Put Patients at Risk
It is often difficult to decide whether or not you are “sick enough” to justify missing a part of your rotations, especially when attendance is such an important part of evaluations. In addition, each of us has different set points for when we are too ill to come in for work. Thus, it is often difficult to determine whether or not we should just power through a mild illness. It is essential, however, to evaluate whether or not your participation in patient care places your patients or colleagues at risk. Providers, including medical students, should evaluate whether or not they might transmit infectious agents to patients.
We All Get Sick
Medical students, residents, and physicians invariably get sick. School officials, attendings, and colleagues all understand this reality and are often more encouraging of us to stay home than we might expect. Personal well-being can sometimes be diminished when we are involved in a profession that emphasizes the care of others. However, it is essential to be mindful of your health and well-being. Your body will thank you for it.
Munveer Bhangoo, MSII
Council of Student Members Representative, Pacific Region
University of California, San Diego, 2012
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