Sometimes life can feel like a bubble. Everything you’re focused on is within the bubble, and everything else fades away. Obviously, you and I both know that there’s life happening outside the bubble, but it’s all fuzzy out there.
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My dad grew up in a filthy rich family; my mom grew up on the other side of the spectrum. I’ve heard both sides. I’ve traveled enough to see both extremes. I’ve read enough to know that my life is NOT the norm. Many people wake up each day with burdens (lack of water, human trafficking, lack of medical care, lack of shelter, religious persecution, etc.) that never cross my mind as a personal concern. Because none of those things happen in my little bubble. I have to force myself to think about those things, to read true stories that make those issues real to me. I have to force myself to get out of the bubble.
Before starting med school, I remember thinking hard about how to prevent myself from getting stuck in a “med school bubble.” We’ve all heard the stories of burn-out. I saw that episode of Scrubs where the super happy intern was the first one to drop out because he just couldn’t handle the pressure. Guys, that episode terrified me. I didn’t want to get so caught up in medical school and studying that my bubble suffocated me.
So at every med school interview, I made sure to find a med student and ask 2 things:
1) How much free time do you have?
2) What do you do for fun?
I know, real intelligent questions…gunner material right there. ;)
But those answers were important to me. I had no interest in putting myself in an environment that would suck the life out of me. I didn’t want to get so caught up in studying that I forget about the great big world (not the band ;)) out there. It basically boiled down to 2 concerns: I didn’t want to get so caught up in med school that I 1) ignored the interests of others or 2) ignored my interests outside of medicine.
Basically, I wanted to make sure I’m still a human being and not some robot addicted to textbooks. Valid concerns, right?
So for any of you med school hopefuls, let me tell you what I so desperately wanted to hear a medical student tell me at those interviews: MED SCHOOL IS FUN.
Granted, there are stressful nights and days, there are ups and downs, but that’s life. If you’re alive, you will have stress and rollercoaster days, regardless of what you’re doing with your life. As I mentioned in my very first post, so much of med school is what YOU make of it. You can choose to get caught up in your bubble and feel nothing but stress. I don’t recommend that. You can choose to completely ignore that you’re in med school and feel nothing but stress when reality hits. I don’t recommend that either.
Here’s what I do recommend: Get work done and then get out of the bubble.
That statement involved 2 parts (for some unknown reason, there’s a lot of “2’s” happening in this post). If you do both, I guarantee you that med school will be fun.
1) Get work done. I won’t sugarcoat it: med school involves learning a TON of info really well and really fast. This is especially true when you’re on a block schedule, like here at Muncie (read this post if you want more details on our schedule). You definitely have to spend a good amount of time studying. But the nice thing is you get to decide how and when to study. And if you’re on a block schedule, you only have one class to focus on at a time. So figure out how/where/when you study best, and get work done.
2) Get out of the bubble. Make sure you do stuff outside of med school. I think this is SO important. Exercise, make new friends, keep in touch with old friends, and HELP PEOPLE. We all threw that phrase around during interviews. We want to be doctors because we want to help people. Well, don’t forget to help people on your journey to becoming a doctor.
Here at the Muncie campus, we MS1 students just started volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club. I volunteered for the first time yesterday. Kids are awesome. I showed up super tired, but hanging out with kids is like a caffeine boost + nap + adrenaline rush all in one. I loved it. However, there are a lot of times it may seem/feel inconvenient to help others. You may have a lot to get done or you may want a break because you just got a lot of work done. In those situations, I think of a quote I heard Christine Caine say at a conference in 2012 that really struck a chord:
“People are not an interruption in our lives, they are why we’re here.”
Remember that. Don’t see people as interruptions. See them as people. Give a smile, start up a convo, and brighten someone’s day. This may involve you going somewhere to volunteer. Or just being gracious to someone at the grocery store. Or just taking the time to notice others.
For me, it means I choose to study at Starbucks. This may sound odd (especially for those of you who know I don’t even like coffee), but I started doing this during anatomy as a way to get out of my “med school” bubble. Sure, I get work done there, but I also get to meet interesting people and make new friends! That’s one thing that has certainly made med school fun for me and it makes studying a lot more enjoyable. You’ll get some good stories if you hang out at a coffee shop long enough.
Bonding over people-watching.
It’s also a challenge though, because there’s always the temptation to put my headphones in and tune everyone out. Sometimes I have to force myself to take breaks, take off the headphones, and talk to people. But I promise you that it’s worth it.
I know some of my classmates use the gym as their outlet to meet new people. Others make an effort to go visit friends/family during the week. Whatever floats your boat. The important thing is that you don’t forget about life outside of that upcoming exam.
Exams will come and go. You’ll rock some, you’ll struggle through some. The relationships you develop, the people you help, the people who help you…all of those will have a lifelong impact. And they are the reason that med school is fun :)
A special note for accepted medical students: You’re probably going to get your campus assignment soon (unless you did early decision, which means you already know). DON’T FREAK OUT if you don’t get your top choice. I freaked out and got very worked up about it. But keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter all that much what campus you’re at–you’ll get a great education at any of the campuses. What matters is the relationships you’re going to form there. The Muncie campus has some awesome people here that I’ve seriously loved getting to know. So if you get placed in Muncie, get excited. If you get placed at another campus, request a transfer to Muncie ;)
Just kidding, but for real don’t freak out about campus assignments! I’ve already had some people email/message me with questions about campuses, so feel free to ask away! For curious minds, I’m from NW Indiana, requested Indy, got placed in Evansville, almost picked one of the other med schools I got accepted to, realized I couldn’t see myself anywhere but IUSM, and then requested a transfer to Muncie. And I’m so grateful to be here at the Muncie campus. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org if y’all have questions about any of this! I’ll do my best to answer or point you to someone who can. Probably Jose Espada, because he knows everything.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
I’m an MS4 based at the Indy campus, though I spent MS1/2 at the Muncie campus. I started med school with a strong interest in international missions, pediatrics, education, and whole person care. I’m still interested in all those things, except I re...