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On day one, you're brimming with excitement, surrounded by a
hundred plus classmates starting a similar journey, and can't wait
to meet your first patient. By day ninety, your eyes can't stay
open, classmates file into a dozen different study rooms after
class, and the phone buzzes with a message reminding you to eat
from your worried parents. Medical students often see some
magnitude of this happening around them, or to them, and
sometimes the transition is a silent one. Then, there comes the
various approaches to transitioning to wards. Where do personal
relationships fit in?
Simply put, the best advice I can give for relationships in
medical school is to really have them. By "really," I mean
honestly putting your heart into them. I'm not solely referring to
significant others and romantic relationships. Those are often
foremost in our attention. I'm referring to all of your personal
relationships. Your family and close friends will understand if
they're put in the back seat, or if the quality of your exchanges
changes. True bonds are difficult to break. However, for that
reason alone, they deserve more of you.
The new relationships you make in medical school are exciting.
Your classmates will be some of your best friends as well as the
first people in the medical world you will call colleagues. In this
way, they are the first bridge to your professional life as a
physician. Whatever your approach, I think these new relationships
deserve significant effort. They will help make you a better
Time is too short. I don't mean that philosophically (well,
maybe a little) but as a practical concern that becomes all the
more real as we go through medical school and continue through
residency. Why is there never enough!? Relationships might seem to
be a burden from this perspective, but I'd argue they're actually a
blessing. Relationships force you to learn to balance your time.
Embrace your family and old friends somewhat regularly because, as
I mentioned, they deserve it. Spending time with your new peers or
significant other is needed to build these relationships. Having
commitments to others requires planning and foresight, which are
invaluable skills for a physician. It doesn't get easier down the
road. The needs of your patients will come first, and the better
you can balance life and work at this stage, the better you will do
in the next.
What do I want to do after twelve hours in the hospital and one
at the gym on a weekday? I want to watch The Walking Dead
over dinner with my roommate, who is also a classmate, or see
Parks and Recreation with my girlfriend. As much as I
might love the shows, truthfully, I watch because of the
individuals watching with me. They are my biggest sources of
support and comfort through this stage of the adventure. Your
immediate support structure changes in medical school, which might
be due to physical distance or how abstract the world of medicine
can be to outsiders. A combination of old and new relationships
forms the foundation of a new support system that will help you
When we hit the wards for the first time, many of us cannot help
but want to learn everything possible from every patient encounter.
"It's why we're here," we tell ourselves. However, going from the
books to the floor can be a bit bumpy. Learning what drives others,
what they care about, and what worries them is not simple, but it
is also not unique to patient encounters. Getting to know someone
is a skill developed over time and through experience. It can be a
first date, a new classmate, or a complete stranger. Along with
interpersonal skills, you develop insight into the vast differences
in people's beliefs and goals. I have learned from friends
struggling with breakups, depression, financial troubles, or who
have family members with cancer. The appreciation for someone
else's perspective or life situation carries over into a clinical
context, especially when you can draw parallels at the same
By learning about others we come to learn about ourselves. I
have learned much more about myself through my relationships during
medical school. Relationships help you to reflect on your intense
medical school experiences and promote self-knowledge. They can tap
into emotions of happiness, gratitude, jealousy, and vulnerability.
They can break your heart. Discovering what you really want out of
your medical career takes knowing yourself. Your emotional
bandwidth may be challenged when you find yourself attempting to
save a struggling romantic relationship and comforting the father
of a 5-year-old who just found out he has adrenocortical carcinoma.
Relationships help you reflect on a personal level, making your
compassion more human, and develop the values you will rely on
during your career. Surely, you will learn the most from your
patients, but patients need someone with whom they can relate.
The best advice I can give for relationships in medical school
is to really have them. I'm bringing an existential
viewpoint to a traditionally systematic and academic field, but I
have found most medical students tend to agree. Don't wait for when
you are less busy and have time to focus on others. Your profession
is focusing on others. Have meaningful ones now, and not
half-heartedly, during your formative years of training because
relationships in medical school will make you a better doctor—even
through day one thousand, three hundred sixty-nine.
Hiten D. Patel, MPH
Johns Hopkins University
Class of 2014
September 2013 Issue of IMpact
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