Part of my med school experience includes spending 20 hours each month at a clinic getting those all-important “patient contact” hours. Just one step up from the shadowing I did for years as a pre-med, these hours give me an amazing insight into what it really means to be a physician. And I work alongside several other first and second year med students who are also keeping track of their “patient contact” hours.
Which brings up the issue of the Selfish Med Student.
In about ten years of working in the medical field and shadowing, I’ve bumped up against all kinds of students. Some are truly clueless. Some are pretty good at pretending they’ve got it all together. Some really do have it mostly together. And there’s always a few who have achieved some level of maturity and are the ones I hope to stay in touch with, knowing their future patients will be in very good hands.
So what’s the deal with the selfishness thing?
1. Med students have to be selfish. Sorta.
Medical school is intense. As you’ve noticed if you’re in it, and as you’ve imagined if you haven’t started yet. Nothing can quite prepare you for the level of intensity, the sheer volume of information that is constantly thrown at you. And in order to do well (translate that: in order to test well, and retain the information for future boards and a lifetime of practicing medicine), med students really do need a degree of what some would call selfishness.
I call it having good boundaries and dedication to focus.
I turn down just about every invitation for socializing (except during breaks in classes). I stay off of social media most of the time. I’ve learned how to gently say no thank you. And I’m okay with being misunderstood and being called anti-social sometimes. Studying is a priority.
2. Med students have to not be selfish. Seriously.
This means losing that “but what about me” mentality. That old saying the world doesn’t owe you a living is a good place to start… but it goes deeper than that.
The difference between being just another medical student, and being a stand-out student who will become an amazing physician, often boils down to the selfishness factor.
Here’s some ideas on how to do that.
- Lose the entitlement thing. The world owes you nothing. The school owes you nothing. You’re “entitled” to nothing. Rather than beating my head against issues, I choose to focus on how I can contribute to the greater good – one class, one classmate, and one patient at a time.
- Lose the me-first thing. You don’t need to mention how tired you are, how little sleep you’re getting, or what score you got on the last exam. Its really okay – and actually preferable – to hold the door open so someone else can walk through first. Its really okay to collaborate and share rather than fighting for the top-dog spot.
- Lose the competition thing. Compete with yourself, not your fellow students. Promote “us”, rather than “me”. Be known as the one who builds up others rather than tearing others down. Now please understand, I am a super competitive person. Seriously. But I’ve learned over the years that there’s a way to be competitive without being cut-throat.
- Embrace what it means to serve. Its so easy to get stuck in service for the sake of adding one more item to the CV. But medicine is a profession of service. During the times that you’re in an observership or shadowing, be fully present. Pay attention to how other physicians and students treat people – both on the positive and on the negative side. Make room in your mind and your soul to have your brain on high alert “learn-mode” while your heart is fully engaged with your patients and mentors. And yes, I know just how challenging that can be.
Being a med student doesn’t have to equal being selfish. Its not all about me. I’ve learned that I can be my driven- focused- intense- self, while still being a gentle giving respectful member of a class, of a team. I’ll take it.