Isolation in Medical School

If you are struggling, here is a secret: You are not alone

September 27 2015 | by Dr. MJ

If someone were to ask me what one of the worst parts of struggling in medical school was, I would say it was the isolation that the struggle created.  Of course, the fear of failing out of school was massive, but the isolation that became so inherent in this struggle may have impacted me more.  Personally, when I am in any type of challenging situation, I want the support of others.  I want to talk about what I am going through, especially with people who have walked a similar path.  I guess it is no surprise that I have chosen to pursue a career in psychiatry. 

But in this predicament, I felt that I had nowhere to turn.  School had only recently begun.  I was still getting to know my classmates.  From what I could tell, all of them appeared to be adjusting just fine to medical school.  Of course, there were some classmates who would express concern before a test, but they usually would say afterwards that they ended up doing really well.  Consequently, I did not want to even attempt to discuss my negative medical school experience with anyone in my class. 
There was another reason I did not want to talk to any students in my class (or even my school).  In previous academic experiences, I had always performed well and took pride in that.  As a result, a part of my personal identity revolved around being intelligent.  (More on the impact of struggling in medical school and identity in another blog.)  I really did not want to be known as the class's lone struggling student. 
I tried to reach out to my friends and family.  All of them were incredibly supportive. But they did not really understand.  I had no family members who had ever attended medical school, so they did not have any frame of reference.  Only one of my close friends attended medical school, and she never had any problems, so as much as she tried to help, she ultimately didn't really know what to say.  So even the people who tried to help me ended up unintentionally contributing to this sense of isolation that was consuming me. 

It was not until that I attended the STAT Class after barely passing my first year that I finally saw that other people can struggle in medical school and that my situation was actually not unique.  At that moment, I felt like a weight had lifted off me and I could finally share this burden with people who truly understood.  Truthfully, I did not realize how much this isolation had weighed on me until it started to dissipate.

More than anything else, I want anyone reading this blog post to know that you are not alone.  You are not the first person to struggle in medical school and I would bet anything that you are not the only person in your medical school that is currently struggling.  I also want you to know that just because you are struggling now, it does not mean that you can't ultimately become a physician.  Maybe the path to that goal will have some unexpected turns (mine certainly did), but that does not mean you won't ultimately succeed.  If you forget everything else I have written, please remember this - you are not alone.

Dr MJ is a recent graduate of an eastern US allopathic medical school who was helped by The STAT program. She is now a psychiatry resident in the Midwest. Feel free to contact her at [email protected]