In one of my classes upon entering the medical college, a professor said in passing, “There is only one thing left for you – cut yourself off entirely from the outside world.”
I uttered a snorting laugh at the time. No matter how busy I might get with the study, I would always make time to meet friends and do the things I wanted to, I thought. Three years have passed, and, surprisingly, now I find many difficulties conversing with people in my department and feel like an outsider who knows nothing but study. This felts all the more disheartening since I had participated in many other outside activities and developed an interest in majors that weren’t mine.
There is a range of reasons as to why medical students can’t always fit in well with other students. First off, our test schedules are hellish. Unlike the majority of students who study only for midterm and final exams, once we finish pre-medical science, we are constantly bombarded by exams and find it difficult to meet other students.
Further, medical language is very different from standard speech. For instance, we often have to switch out the words we use on a regular basis — “lateral,” “medial,” “rule out,” etc. — which students of other majors don’t understand, but that job is tough. There are various other factors as well, but most of them are physical, non-modifiable factors over which we have no control. As such, I rather hope to focus on the causes that we can fix and improve with effort.
The biggest reason medical students feel isolated from society is the frame through which society views us. For most other 20-year-olds, the word “doctor” conjures up the image of a well-earning occupation, and they are usually jealous when you tell them you are a medical student or attending a medical graduate school. In reality, intern and resident salaries fall short of those earned by workers at large companies, and secure, high incomes within the medical community are a thing of the past. But people rarely believe this even when you try to explain it to them.
Further, any time we talk about the difficulty of our studies, we are met with the claim that “at least you’ll be making a lot of money later.” You reach a certain point where you stop trying to argue back, and only take what comes. It becomes difficult to have a genuine conversation.
This becomes a real problem when we are infatuated with this image, and outside perceptions make medical students feel superior to other people. This not only perpetuates negativity but also further traps us within the frame society has predetermined.
Ultimately, the conversation naturally stops. And for us to prevent this, it is important that we look at ourselves with objective eyes and take efforts to correct misperceptions about medical students. Another reason we’re separated from other students is that of the belief we are leading the hardest lives in the world. This is not to say I think that thinking is weird — of course, the exams are no joke, and it’s nothing I would ever want to do again — but that gives us no right to belittle the lives of other students. They have their struggles, and juniors and seniors in the job search have it harder than us, physically and emotionally.
There’s a reason as to why many dramas feature college freshmen or students seeking out jobs, with relatively fewer plotlines about medical students. When I look around myself, I see students submitting tens of hundreds of job applications while only hearing back from about 5 percent of companies. Compared to medical students, whose futures are decided for them, the majority of 20-year-olds face an unclear future. It is my hope that medical students will break out of their self-focused molds and attempt to empathize with other students’ lives. This would make a huge difference in the way we engage with others.
If we continue to feel isolated, medical students will only remain stuck in their myopic visions and upon graduation, find that the rest of society does not want to listen to our voices. I hope I will not have to face such a future merely because of wrong attitudes during my time as a student.
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