We play a small but mighty role in the lives of our patients!
It can be pretty hard sometimes to find your place as a member of the “team” while you’re on your rotations. Speaking from experience, it’s hard to feel like I’m making much of a difference. After feeling good about the patient encounter and presenting everything to the attending (including the correct diagnosis for the patient), they come in and ask all the same questions and do all the same physical exam! Of course I understand why, but I can’t help but feel a little undermined at times. If you’re in a big hospital on a team with interns and residents then you might feel even more useless, because the students in training do all of the real work. I remember feeling lost in the shadows my time on a hospitalist team. Technically I was following my own patients and would present on them, but after rounds I was pretty out of the loop, unless I forced myself into it (and I didn’t want to be that girl). So it can be pretty frustrating. But rest assured, there are ways that you can impact your patients unlike any other person, as well as make a huge difference for your care team.
We’re eager and fresh in this new environment. We haven’t been jaded by the system and we only want to do the best by our patients. Our hearts tug when we hear bad news; we give people the benefit of the doubt; we believe it when they say they’re taking their medicine. This is such a meaningful thing that patients actually notice! There’s a difference in the way a medical student talks to them versus an attending. We show them the compassion, care, and empathy that they truly need and sometimes don’t get. There are times we can do more for them than all of the medications and tests that the residents are ordering. We have the time to sit with them and get to know them more personally. This especially goes if you don’t have to write notes after your patient encounter. More practically, there are many things you can do to be a rockstar team member: print rounding reports, gather new data on patients, do extra research on topics you or the residents may be pimped on, etc.
I’ll always remember on my OB/GYN rotation, there was a patient whose child had to be transported to another hospital while she had to stay to recover. It was so hard for her to be separated from her child. I came in during pre-rounds and was a soundboard for her to express her feelings. I told her that she was going to be a wonderful mom and that the time would soon come for her to be reunited with her child. I stopped in again later in the day, and as she was being discharged, she thanked me so much for being her rock as she waited for the go-ahead to leave the hospital. And she gave me the biggest hug. She said people just came in and out of her room all day and no one cared what she was going through. In that moment I felt like I did more for her than any of the nurses or even my attending–who really just signed her discharge papers.
So just remember that even though you might not have access to the computer record to look up patient info, or you might be the third person to take the same patient history, you really can make all the difference in a patient’s life. Our worth as medical students is unfortunately defined by how good our oral presentations and differential diagnoses are. But our worth as physicians is really in the connections we make with patients and in the rapport we build with them. That’s what makes all the difference. While learning to be good clinicians, we are also learning to be good doctors.
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What do you do when you’re ready to throw in the towel?
It doesn’t take much time after starting school that all the excitement gets sucked out of everything and you’re just fighting to stay afloat. That’s not a very optimistic statement to make, but there’s some truth in it, especially in medical school. There are random moments when you’re reminded of why you’re putting yourself through such suffering, but they seem few and far in between, until you get to the clinical years. For the first two years of med school, lots of people use the swimming analogy: everyone is just trying to stay afloat. There’s times when you’ve got your stride and you’re cruising, and at some points (most points) you’re barely making it, swamped by the waves that keep coming and coming…and coming. It takes so much effort to stay afloat, eventually your body gets tired, and you want to say screw it. But you can’t. Because you’re supposed to get a couple letters behind your name soon, and you really want those letters.
So what do you do? Here’s some tips from my experience on how to keep fighting the good fight.
- Keep good friends around you–I don’t use the term friend here loosely. When Isay friend, I mean someone you can confide in, who knows your weaknesses, who you don’t have to explain yourself to, who only wants to uplift you. When we share our joys they are doubled, and when we share our burdens, they are halved. Medical school isn’t meant to go through alone. It’s important to have friends around you that can encourage you and tell you that you can do it when you don’t believe in yourself. Watch the people you surround yourself with, because negative, toxic friendships can easily add to hardship.
- Don’t rely on your own strength–We are all strong people, especially to be in this field. We know how to fight to stay up late or wake up early, study harder to get the results we want. But sometimes the fight just isn’t in us. Human strength isn’t always enough and we need to call on God to give us the supernatural strength and power we need to persevere. Surrender it to Him and let him take control. Staying faithful in the Word and strengthening your spirit can help you tap into that power on demand.
- Have an outlet/escape–It feels like my life is consumed by medicine, especially so back in first and second year. I found that it was actually harder for me to stay afloat when I convinced myself that I didn’t have time to refresh and do things I enjoyed. I would envy people who had time to keep up with TV series until I realized that they were making time for things to let their brains escape while I had mine on lock down. I learned that taking breaks can actually make your time studying more efficient. So when you feel like you’re ready to throw in the towel, do it. Refresh. But only for a little while.
- Give yourself positive affirmations–write them on your bathroom mirror, put hem on your screensaver, leave sticky notes around your room, recite them to yourself every morning. Positive affirmations help increase your mental toughness, so when doubt, weakness, or negative energy comes your way you can easily block it out because you’re full or positivity. Examples include your favorite uplifting quotes, bible verses, or simple phrases such as: “you are smarter then you think,” “I am powerful,” “I’m going to be a doctor one day,” “You make the world a better place,” “you are important.” You get the idea.
- Trust the process–The road isn’t easy and it’s not supposed to be. This profession isn’t for the weak hearted. The process is meant to test you, sharpen you, grow you. We all struggle. When someone on the other side tells me that everything is going to be OK, it’s hard to swallow in the moment. But then I cross that hurdle and realize that they were right. When the going gets tough, instead of getting worn out, we have to trust that we will be better professionals because of this, and let our future selves motivate and pull us through.
Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, check out this one on Embracing the Journey! Subscribe below for more updates from The Balancing Act.
15 questions to learn more about me and my blog
Check out my answers to the 15-Q medical tag to learn more about me and my blog!
- Who are you?
I’m Ijeoma Okoye, a 23 yo first generation American, and third year medical student at the Medical College of Georgia. I like sunsets, long walks on the beach, and the occasional ratchet turn up.
- When did you start studying medicine or premed courses?
I began premed studies in 2011 at the University of Georgia and matriculated into med school in 2015 directly from undergrad.
- What made you choose the medical field?
Both my parents work in healthcare, but really it wasn’t until high school when I decided to pursue medicine. The only subjects I liked were math and science–I was your typical nerd. I only liked math because I was really good at it, but with the sciences I actually enjoyed the study. I contemplated pharmacy because of all of the chemistry but then considered my personality–how much I like talking to patients, how I wanted to be challenged, and the level of autonomy I wanted in my career–and I landed in medicine.
- How did you come up with your blog name/username?
My life has been a balancing act since college as a pre-med, and I don’t think it will ever stop. I think it’s something all pre-health and health professional students can relate to–this constant juggling between our identities as students, leaders, siblings, friends, regular people, etc. It just resonates. My content is also reflective of this balance and I feature people who can speak to the same.
- How would you describe your blog?
I’d describe my blog as the perfect blend between encouragement and entertainment for the health/pre-health professional student. I write very casually and lightheartedly but I cover things that are important to touch on in this journey into the healthcare field. I’m honest and transparent with my followers. As a minority blogger, it’s especially important to me that I put myself out there so that other minorities on the ride with me stay encouraged by seeing my journey.
- What’s your favorite quote?
– In life, you get out of it what you put into it
– In all things, we are more than conquerers through Him who loved us
- Best memory in medical school?
My roommate and I hosted Christmas parties for our class during our first and second years of med school and they were always so much fun! Med students party way harder than I expected. Must be something about the stress….
- What’s one course you struggled with?
I struggled with GI a lot. Whether it was the anatomy with the blood supply or the physiology with all of the different hormones, or the drugs, it was just so hard for me to wrap my head around. I ruled that specialty out very quickly. Even while studying for STEP1, it was always my lowest section and unfortunately I don’t think I ever really conquered it. No success story this time around lol
- What’s your favorite book?
I’ve read very many great books, even just in my time in medical school. I think my favorite would be The Alchemist. It’s timeless.
- What do you do in your free time?
What free time? HA. No, I’m kidding I do try to make free time and these days when I get some time I will read, blog, exercise, clean, cook, watch a TV show/YouTube videos, call my parents, bother my roommate, call my boyfriend, look up new hairstyles, or hand out with friends if they’re also free.
- What do you want to major or specialize in?
I want to do primary care, and leaning towards Family Medicine right now. But I also want to own a gym and do personal training on the side.
- Who do you look up to?
My sister, my mother and father. I’m so blessed to not have to look far for role models.
- How do you study (productively)?
First step-put my phone on do not disturb and turn my notifications off on my laptop. Second step-establish my game plan for that chunk of time, always keeping it realistic. Then I just jump in. First and second year it was one lecture at a time, one slide at a time (our school does a lot of powerpoint) taking notes on paper or electronically as needed. Now that I’m in third year, it’s watching videos/taking notes, supplemental readings, and boat loads of practice questions
- How do you stay motivated in medical school?
I’m self motivated for the most part. But when that eventually fails, I’m motivated by those around me, so I will study with someone and feed off of their energy. If that fails or I don’t want to be around anyone, I think about my future patients and how I need to learn this stuff for them. When that fails, I pray for strength. Sometimes I feel like even that fails and at that point I just need to take a step back, breathe, maybe go for a walk, and come back to it (maybe even the next day).
- What are your best tips for future medical students?
First of all, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, because we are all meant to follow different paths to our end destinations. If medicine is truly the path for you, you will get there as long as you keep working hard, surround yourself with the right people, and cancel out any negativity or doubt that tries to come your way. When you get to medical school, buckle up! This is not for the weak hearted. That phrase that the hardest part of medical school is getting in is a lie! But you will learn so much about medicine and about yourself; all of your labors will not be in vain and you’ll find that it is indeed so, so rewarding.
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