Written by S. Akbar Husain, Class of 2021 Medical Student
Full disclosure, being a 4th year medical student during this pandemic has not been easy. From avoiding burnout due to long hours on the wards, and balancing time for interviews, this year has posed many challenges. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as CMU’s Organization of Student Representatives member to the AAMC. The main reason I went for this position was to help give our students a voice, I hope this post also opens the opportunity for people to reach out and also share their own experiences or concerns.
Being a 4th year also means being one step closer to intern year where we will be responsible for patients. The pandemic threw a wrench into our schedules and rotations. Perhaps I am speaking for myself when I say I don’t know if I have everything I need to succeed as an intern. It takes an effort to reframe these thoughts. Pause for a moment Akbar. Every student around the world is going through this challenging time. Come July 1st we will all be in the same boat. I think taking stock of how far we’ve come can really help get through it. We’ve fulfilled almost all our required rotations, taken step 1 and step 2, and not to trigger PTSD but we survived foundations as well. We’ve made it this far and we have more than enough of what it takes to be excellent doctors (honestly it does take a regular reminder to myself). I also remind myself to trust the process; thousands before us have done it. Programs are aware of it. There are few things along the way that I think can really help through this time because they’ve made a difference for me: leaning on friends and family, staying physically active, and taking care of yourself mentally.
Remember to reach out to your friends. You never know what someone is going through. That one phone call to just check in can go a long way. It also serves as a reminder that you’re not alone through this and others may be dealing with something difficult.
I’ve been feeling very fortunate to have access to all this technology with FaceTime, Zoom, etc. To think there was once a time where I’d have to be quarantined for months and not even be able to see my loved ones’ faces would be awful. I got to see my nephews go from only walking to running; I wish he could run in so many places children deserve to explore. The other piece of technology that has really helped me stay sane while also connecting with people has been video games. They have been a great destressor while also allowing me to socialize online with friends. My game of choice has been Apex Legends, I run trios with friends and we’re all in different time zones, but we make it work. Also, for tech advantages during quarantine I must mention binge watching television. A recent favorite was Queens Gambit, highly recommend. I believe there’s a function to watch Netflix with others on their own devices as well, let me know if you’re curious!
As far as staying physically active, before the cold weather I would make it a point to run outdoors at least once or twice a week. Breathing in the fresh air and connecting with nature is a great form of therapy. Nature grounds us and being around other living organisms has a way of making us present again and as to not stay caught up in all the things on our plate. Since the cold months though, YouTube workouts have been my go-to (Chloe Ting mostly, wife’s recommendation, this is a judgement free zone). I would also recommend Wim Hof’s aka “The Ice Man’s” breathing guide on YouTube, it’s a short video that can make a BIG difference for mood and focus. There is an abundance of free workout videos out there, I highly suggest finding one you like and doing it at least 3-5 times a week. Afterall its what we would recommend our patients do for a healthy lifestyle, it would only be fair if we could take our own advice (within reason of course, only do so if your health professional says it’s safe to exercise). I still fall short of my goal of 3-5 but hey, we’re human and I’m trying.
In closing, as I think about how I will be ranking the Internal medicine programs with their different schedules and cultures, how to finish up med school strongly without becoming jaded, and not to mention the divisiveness our country has been going through as well as how to make it through this pandemic – what in my opinion is above all is who we are being in this moment. We were dealt a pretty bad set of cards, but that doesn’t have to determine the outcome. What matters right now, with everything going on, is that we recognize no matter what is showing up and happening around us, it can all be put in the context of our training and development. Not just medically, but as people. Whether it was something we got wrong in an assessment and plan, or feedback we got from an attending, all of it is there to help us grow. From racial injustice in black communities, to politicizing the use of PPE, everything is there for us to learn from. All these moments and what we take away will ultimately help us be better people, and doctors. Afterall being a doctor means lifelong learning, medicine is unique in that it is continuously growing and changing, we must take care of ourselves so we can grow and change as well so we may best serve those around us.