A message to all my students – past and future
The death of one of my students is one of the saddest news any lecturer can hear, especially when he has just submitted his answers to the final exam for my course. This was two days before he died in the college’s library in front of his colleagues.
Life can be hard. Being a medical student can make it even harder. With loads to read, study, write, present, remember and apply. Even more, the social support that medical students diminish, especially for those leaving their home countries and families to study medicine abroad.
No one should deal with this alone
The culture that medical students should be tough to handle the future pressure of the career they have chosen is unfair in many ways. First, medical students are – like other students of their age, humans. We have our fears, concerns, expectations and above all, limits. There is no point in taking yourself to the brink assuming that as long as hundreds and probably thousands of medical students before me survived it, then I will. No one is a ‘carbon copy’ of anyone and we all have various degrees of emotional and psychological tolerance and, thus, no point in assuming that you have the same limits.
Fortunately, the importance and relevance of mental health are growingly appreciated, due to the unfortunate events of medical students and doctors taking their own lives or falling into clinical depression and similar disorders that led some of them to addiction. No one is immune from mental health issues, which are not always expressed as clinical symptoms, and thus, should never be seen as something to be ashamed of. Moreover, they should never be seen as something to hide, manipulate, or live silently with.
There is a lot of pressure (mostly self-imposed) that we put on ourselves in proportion to the assumed expectations of the people that doctors should sacrify and tolerate for the sake of others. Indeed, there is an element of truth here. Doctors eventually tolerate the unusual pressure associated with their roles, especially in such clinical specialities dealing with emergency cases and dying patients. Again, you should not face that alone.
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Help yourself to help others
I remember this feeling of hesitance to call someone or ask for help. “I am a grown-up guy”, “I counsel others, how can I ask for one?”, “Wait and pray, it will go away”, and a long list of excuses. This was even aggravated by the burden of my cultural background, coming from a culture where ‘men should be tough’ and should not complain.
All of these were nothing but delusions and as time passes, I become more convinced than ever that we should live and celebrate our humanity with all its inherent weaknesses. This is how we survive and grow. Your colleagues, your tutors, your mentors, your friends, and your family are all possible resources that you may need to talk to. Do it early before it is too late. You will find that you are not alone.
When we see you
As someone who has been teaching and training medical students and many other practitioners for more than a decade, sometimes I feel that we might be part of your stress. With all the good intentions in the world, we tell you to be altruistic, to respect your patients and their families, to be available, to help your colleagues, and many more. The reality is not always matching your life.
The reality is that many colleagues are not treating their colleagues, including their junior trainees, well. They do not fulfil their duties and, even worse, they nourish a culture of carelessness and lack of professionalism. The expectations of the patients are growing even higher. The expect better, more timely, more sophisticated, and more professional service. Amid all these factors, medical students might wonder if ‘our lecturers are seeing this and what they see when they see us’. We see, hear, and try to feel you.
When we see you, we do not see numbers. We do not see grades. We do not see the university’s ranking or our next promotion. We see humans; our little selves. I see in you sons, daughters, and younger sisters and sons.
We see what is ahead and we are trying to help you to go through it as smooth as possible by equipping you with the relevant knowledge, the appropriate skills, and the ultimate professional standards. But we always remember, as you always should too, that we are humans who will treat humans. Just as your patients are not ‘sick bodies’ whose functions should be restored, you are not reservoirs that should be filled.
You are always more.