By: Daniel Pahl
Medical school can present you with challenges in many forms, from academic to personal. The clinical years in particular, many people, including myself, can easily lose a sense of who they are and what matters to them. Medicine is a field that can take over your entire life. In some ways it almost has to for a brief period of time as you engross yourself in clinical medicine. However, I speak from very personal experience when I say that maintaining the things that make you “you” is paramount.
Before medical school I danced professionally, performing throughout New York City. I grew up a “bunhead,” studying ballet since I was 8 years old and devoting hours after school learning how to do a perfect tendu and how to dance an eight-minute variation while making it look easy. Dance was a part of my identity, something I intended to maintain throughout medical school and my life. However, that was not as easy to do as I imagined it would be.
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When clinical rotations began I saw how being in the hospital all day and coming home needing to study for shelf exams would make continuing to take dance classes difficult. So I put it off and progressively took fewer and fewer classes until I had not taken a dance class in months. I felt disconnected from who I was and it showed in my clinical work and personal life. When I returned to the dance studio a new joy resonated through me. I felt more connected to myself than ever before, and I realized what a mistake I had made not making one dance class a week a priority, something I could have certainly managed.
I tell this story not for the purpose of instilling fear of clinical rotations, but instead as my own struggle with balance and identity in medical school. For this reason and from what I have learned, I implore everyone to keep doing the things that make you the person you were before medical school and the person you will be when you are a doctor whether that is cooking homemade meals, playing board games with your family, composing music, shooting hoops with your friends, or whatever else it is. Medicine is a beautiful, and important and life-changing endeavor. But it is not an endeavor that should come at the cost of your personal well-being or sense of self. You were a full and worthy person before medical school. You did things that made you light up. Don’t stop doing those things no matter how overwhelming and significant clinical rotations and shelf exams may seem.
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I recognize how easy it is to say keep doing what you love versus actually doing it, plus balancing all of your other responsibilities. I lived through it personally so I know. That is why reaching out and asking for help is so essential. Sometimes we can’t handle everything on our own. Sometimes we need someone to talk to or someone to help us learn how to manage our time better. Sometimes we need a day off. Sometimes we need help and the bravest/scariest thing we can do when that happens is to reach out for help. The minute I reached out for help I found people all around me ready and willing. The gifts that come from asking for help are unimaginable including reconnecting with those things that you love.
No one should climb Mount Everest alone. Medical school is one giant mountain that no one can cross alone. Staying connected to the things you love and the people that help you do that is everything.