To all the out-of-state students who are starting medical school this year in the middle of a pandemic, this is for you. It is no secret that medical school is a challenge. Moving away from home to a new state adds another set of challenges. Throw the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix, and now we have a very unique situation!
I hope I can help ease these jitters by sharing my experience of moving from California to Michigan for medical school and adapting to how medical education changed during the pandemic.
When I started medical school, the out-of-state narrative was not widely discussed. I didn’t anticipate the added personal challenges that came with uprooting myself. I learned to be compassionate with myself while I was going through two learning curves. I was adjusting to life in medical school and life in the Midwest.
Based on my experience—which, I acknowledge, is different from what starting med school will be like this year—I recommend the following:
Create a new support network
- Look into the student resources your school provides, from academic advising to wellness and counseling to peer mentors. Advisors are a great resource because they help students navigate the curriculum, provide study strategies, and help you build your career planning roadmap. If your school provides one-on-one counseling, I encourage you to talk about your feelings and learn some coping strategies.
- Take advantage of student events! Even if they are virtual events. Student organizations are putting in their best effort to build a community online. It is always helpful to get to know someone who is a couple of steps ahead of you in medical school.
You should also connect with your new classmates by forming virtual study sessions, attending online social events and being active in group chats. This new way of socializing virtually could help break the ice when the time comes for students to resume in-person class events.
Make your apartment/home as comfortable as possible
- You’ll be spending a lot of time at home—investing in a few things that will make it more cozy, such as room-brightening decorations or a comfortable couch, will likely pay dividends for your mental health.
- Dedicate part of your home to a workspace. I recommend getting a couple of house plants to brighten up the room!
- I made sure my bedroom was a haven after a stressful day. It is my safe space to relax, unwind, talk with loved ones and sleep. I avoid studying in my bedroom because, I’ll be honest, study time easily turned into nap time.
Get to know your area
- Learn the basics of your new city: Where do your classmates and upperclassman recommend for housing? Where should you get groceries? What should you know about your new neighborhood and city? What are the best local restaurants for takeout? Where are some refreshing outdoor places to go for a walk or hike?
By reaching out to your classmates who are locals of your new state, you’ll be forming connections while getting to know your area. This is your new home. Go explore when you can, just be sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
- As soon as you get the basics down, begin to embrace the culture and activity that is rooted in your new home as much as is possible during COVID-19. Last year, for the first time ever, I truly got to experience the beauty of seasons. When fall rolled around, my friends and I went to the apple orchards to pick apples and enjoy fresh doughnuts and cider.
- I learned that the more I got to know my new environment, the less intimidating my new surroundings were, and it got easier to focus on school. It takes time and patience to go through the process of adjusting.
Home will always be there
- Carve out time in your busy schedule to catch up with friends and family back home. Social media makes it easier for us to feel and stay connected.
Be mindful of differences in time zones
- If you are starting medical school online and have not moved to your new state yet, be extra mindful of the time difference. I returned to my hometown when my school transitioned to pure online learning during our spring and summer semesters.
With that came multiple alarms to remind me that my 8 a.m. Eastern time class really started at 5 a.m. my time. Adjusting my sleep schedule to my school’s time zone was quite helpful, especially when there was an exam the next day.
Bloom where you are planted
- This has been my mantra. Even though classes kept me busy, I felt homesick for months. I overcame this emptiness by forming new friendships, getting involved in school, talking with a counselor, and exploring my new state.
There may be times when you feel homesick and perhaps guilty for feeling homesick. This is absolutely normal. However, remember that you were chosen to join your medical school class because of your unique experiences that will add to the diversity of your school.
You belong. Give yourself time to adjust to your new environment, and try to enjoy the journey once you’re settled in.