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Life as a Medical Student: Resilience, Determination, and Sacrifice

In May of 2011, I was faced with the disappointment of not getting into a Canadian medical school. As such I applied to Ross University- a leading international medical school. After getting the call that I was accepted,  I felt a rush of emotions- joy, excitement, inspiration, and at the very back of my mind- uncertainty. I didn't exactly know what life in medical school was like, but who cares! I was finally given my chance to prove myself. I was going to be a physician, I made it, I got in! The hard part was finally over... or so I thought.

In May of 2011, I was faced with the disappointment of not getting into a Canadian medical school. As such I applied to Ross University- a leading international medical school. After getting the call that I was accepted,  I felt a rush of emotions- joy, excitement, inspiration, and at the very back of my mind- uncertainty. I didn't exactly know what life in medical school was like, but who cares! I was finally given my chance to prove myself. I was going to be a physician, I made it, I got in! The hard part was finally over... or so I thought.

The first year of medical school introduced me to the rest of my life. Forget all the glamour, pomp, and stylization of hospital life often shown on TV and in movies.  Being a student in medical school is for all intents and purposes a 24 hour commitment. My life consisted of studying, going to class, studying, eating, studying, and maybe getting 5 hours of sleep- if you're lucky. Many believe that life gets easier once you get accepted, but in all honesty the stress and difficulty of preparing to enter medical school is simply a primer for the real thing. You will be faced with a lot in and it is best to understand that the amount of sacrifice needed during this time in your life will be greater than at any time before. It is also important to embrace the newfound responsibility that is now being placed in your hands. As a medical student, you are well on your way towards having the trust, health and ultimately the lives of others dependent on your medical skills and capabilities. This is of course an extremely serious responsibility, and each and every medical school expects their student will meet their requirements. As such, the four years of medical school are primarily a time of resilience, determination, and sacrifice.

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The first sacrifice is family. It is important to be prepared as well as understand, both you as well as your family, that being a medical student brings additional responsibilities that take away family time. Having had to leave my family in Toronto, it was very easy to become homesick especially when facing the stress and demands of school. As such, I set aside ten minutes at night just to Skype with my parents. It wasn't much, but it was a reminder that they were still there for me.

The second sacrifice is your social life. Just as it was with your family, you also have to  put aside friends, acquaintances, and significant others. This is one area of my life I often found very difficult to cope with. Being a social person, I love going out and spending time with friends and meeting new people.   However, being in medical school required me to significantly cut down on these extra-curricular escapades.. I had to get used to a life of rejecting offers from friends asking to come hang out for the night simply because I had to study. I had to get accustomed to logging onto Facebook and seeing all my friends post pictures of birthday parties, nights out, and good times- all of which I was no longer a part of. If you are currently in a relationship, ensure that the person you are with understands the career commitment you are about to make- as difficult relationships can make an already stressful lifestyle even more burdensome. Some people are capable of balancing this aspect of their lives with their studies, but others are not. You need to ensure that you surround yourself with people who will consistently support and motivate you.

As I stated earlier, being a medical student is essentially a full-time commitment. The field of medicine consists of an incredibly vast amount of knowledge, and physicians spend lifetimes trying to hone their practice. However, your four years of medical school is where the majority of your medical knowledge will come from and your national medical board will expect that you have not only mastered the memorization and understanding of the material, but also its practical application. As such, be prepared to study. I spent a good 16 hours a day including class time trying to master the material in my first two years of basic sciences. This commitment is incredibly hard, and proper dedication, time management skills, and organization is an absolute must if you wish to succeed in medical school. But the study of medicine is a lifelong process. Many of the senior physicians I do my clinical rotations with consistently have to keep up with the ever-evolving field of medicine, and as such need to study new research findings in their spare time.

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Another aspect of medical school I was not ready for was the complete shift in terms of academic examination and thinking. Whereas academic success in undergraduate studies often relied on rote memorization, medical schools place a great emphasis on the practical application of your knowledge. They try and gather as much evidence as they can from the patient, and then try to piece the information together to form a diagnosis. This is only half the battle however, as a doctor must not only know how to identify, but also treat the patient's condition. This forced me to go beyond studying only my lecture materials and obtain information and knowledge from outside sources.  What you learn is to develop proper research and problem solving skills, as answers will not simply be given to you.  Medical school takes an enormous physical and emotional toll on yourself, and thus it is important to take care of your own mental and physical health. I found that my academic success was intrinsically tied to my physical and emotional well-being. Although enormous sacrifice in a necessary requirement, one area I learned I could not afford to neglect was my own health. Maintaining a well-balanced diet as well as exercising regularly helped me balance and cope with the stress of studying in my life and helped me build confidence. Many medical students succumb to time constraints and pressure and neglect their own well-being. This produces disastrous results. In order to be ready to take care of others, you must be sure that you have taken care of yourself.

While the entirety of this article has dealt with the challenges I have faced in medical school, I would like to share one more aspect that has helped me get through the tough times and is a requirement for any aspiring doctor: resilience. Medical school is a very humbling experience. I have been placed in many difficult situations involving patients, tests, and other colleagues and there have been times where I have not always succeeded. You must learn that this is completely fine. The art of medical practice is one that is continually honed for the rest of your life. Do not be afraid to make mistakes and stumble, as this will almost certainly happen. At times like this, you must remind yourself of the opportunity that has been given to you. Learning from your mistakes now will help you become a better doctor in the future, and be able to provide better care for your patients.

A young caring doctor

Regardless of where you are in your medical aspirations, keep in mind the enormous commitment that will be required of you. Medical school itself is a primer for life as a medical doctor and the challenges you face there will continue to be faced for the rest of your life. But I assure you, if you are dedicated to a medical dream, the rewards are more than worth the effort you must put into it. The positive difference you make in the lives of the ill and suffering is incomparable to almost anything else you have experienced. The intense studying and preparation I have had to go through has prepared me well for my clinical rotations and has allowed me to impress attending physicians in Canada and the U.S. Do not be afraid to take the leap. Have confidence in yourself and keep in mind these challenges that have to be overcome so that you can be prepared to tackle them head on as you pursue your dream. Resilience, determination, and sacrifice will take you there.

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