I am a DO psychiatrist. I am also the mom of three preteen kids, so I am engulfed in Disney movies and songs. When I was asked to write an article for incoming medical students about their upcoming journey into medicine, we were watching Frozen 2 at the exact scene where Elsa sings her iconic song “Into the Unknown.”
The irony of hearing this and contemplating ideas for the article smacked me in the face with the force of Elsa throwing out her ice crystals as she traversed an angry sea.
You are the class of 2024 and are about to embark on four years of the “great unknown.” Yes, you know it will be about learning the science of medicine, but it will all be new and quite frankly scary.
You are taking a path that so many avoid because of the sacrifice and hardships. You will need to study and manage time like you never have before.
You were meant for this
But this is your calling. As Elsa says, “I am afraid of what I’m risking if I follow” that calling. You are probably anxious and fearful of exactly that.
You are about to dedicate four years to your calling and will indeed be giving up a lot of time during your youth. But you could not ignore that calling, you could not “make it go away.” You were meant for this, and you can do this!
During this time, mental health will be of the utmost importance. Make friends in your class, as they are an invaluable source of support. They can understand what you are going through and can empathize. There will be hours of isolation studying for tests. You may not be able to socialize as you once did. It will be hard to keep in touch with your non-medical friends, and it may be hard for them to understand why.
If you have struggles
You may experience anxiety and depression throughout these times. But you have a huge community of physicians supporting you, cheering for you, and who are there for you if you do have struggles. Those who have gone before you know the challenges and can empathize with what you are going through.
Each of us wants to help you
We want to see you succeed. I encourage you to find a physician mentor who can help guide you along the way. I had several throughout my journey through medical school and residency. I keep in touch with them to this day.
Never forget self-care
Self-care is essential if not crucial to your success in medical school and residency. Take time for yourself, even if it means putting the books away for an hour. That hour of self-care will mean much more in the end than another hour of studying.
Reach out to family and friends during this time. Have a meal and conversation together. Have a social hour with fellow medical school students.
Make sure to implement healthy coping mechanisms. Do not forget the importance of exercise as a form of stress release. I encourage any activity within reason that brings you a sense of joy and calm.
Self-care is not selfish
You are taking care of yourself to better take care of others. You have chosen to dedicate your life to the service of others. You not only need, but also deserve to take care of yourself.
Lastly, never be afraid to reach out for professional help if needed. It is not the weak who decide to reach out for help, but the strong who recognize they are struggling and know that they do need help and seek to find it.
I know that four years seems like an eternity, but now, being on the other side of it, I can see that it really flew by. And I can say without hesitation that those were some of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life.
Before you know it, you will be accepting your diploma and receiving one of the highest honors: becoming a physician. You will be a DO. You will become a part of the community of physicians who were there cheering you on. Cheers, class of 2024!