There is a common misconception in medicine that we as medical providers are supposed to be strong, tireless workers taking care of those in need without needing care of our own. For this reason, we sometimes have trouble asking for help. We may feel asking for assistance is a sign of weakness or worry that we will be stigmatized for supposed shortcomings. But the reality is that at some point in our training, we will all need help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are unfit or unworthy of a career in medicine. It means you want to improve your situation to become a better physician. For many students, medical school is the first time in their life that they begin to face mental, physical, or academic struggles. Fortunately, we don’t have to navigate this journey in medicine alone. Many resources are available if we are struggling, feeling overwhelmed, or need emotional or academic assistance. Here are the top 10 resources for struggling medical students:
1. Your Family Members
Every time I went to pick up my mail in college I would see a sign hanging in the post office which read, “Call your mom!” It wasn’t until I started medical school that I began to take this to heart. We get so busy with classes and studying that it is easy to lose touch with family every now and then. However, making a point to speak with your family every day is hugely beneficial to your well-being. Even if your family members don’t have a background in medicine, they can offer much needed support and encouragement.
2. Your Medical School Classmates
No one can better understand what you are going through than your peers. Befriend them. Form study groups. Or find that one classmate who always seems to have a smile on his face and sit next to him in lectures. If needed, venting to your peers about your shared struggles can be quite cathartic and remind you that you’re not in this alone.
3. Senior Medical Students
At many medical schools, it can be difficult to meet senior students outside of your class. However, you might be surprised how helpful and encouraging these students can be if you simply reach out to them. I often would email students ahead of me who did well to ask for their opinion about how to prepare for a certain exam or seek advice on how to best balance my workload. Senior students are full of knowledge because they’ve already survived what you are going through, and most students are more than willing to offer their assistance because they remember what it was like to be in your shoes.
4. Your Friends Outside of Medicine
Having non-medical friends can be very beneficial. Sometimes, you just need a break from medical school and will find it relieving to have dinner with a friend and not chat about medicine at all. Meeting members of your community and having friends in other professions will remind you that there really is life outside of medical school!
5. A Tutor
Whether or not you are struggling academically, a tutor can help you maximize your potential. A tutor with expertise in your course work or board exam can help you prepare to the best of your ability. They know tips and tricks that can give you an extra boost on your exam. If you are struggling, a tutor can help you get back on track by identifying knowledge gaps with you. Having someone else review a difficult topic with you can also help you understand it in a new way.
6. A Mentor
You might not realize that mentors come in many flavors, and it’s not as hard to find a good one as it may seem. A simple email to a resident or attending in your field of interest may lead to a long-standing system of support that helps you one day reach their position. Some schools have peer mentor or physician mentoring programs where they automatically pair you with someone willing to help you through your medical school career. Use these people for support and guidance; they want to see you succeed.
7. Medical Organizations
Most medical schools have dozens of interest groups and clubs that you can join. These groups allow you to be surrounded by people with similar interests or career aspirations. Some offer mentorship programs or opportunities to give you more experience in a particular field. Other groups have social events or volunteer opportunities that allow you to recharge and relax.
8. Course Professors
I was no stranger to my medical school professors, and I believe that played a big part in my academic success. I took the opportunity to ask a professor a question after class or visit their office hours to meet them face to face. Just about all my professors were genuinely interested not only in my medical education, but also my mental and emotional well-being. If you are not performing where you’d like in a particular subject, a professor can suggest means of improvement or offer advice on how to get back on track.
9. The School Psychiatrist Or Counselor
Many schools have psychiatrists or counselors on site to provide students with mental health care. Do not be embarrassed or fearful of using these services if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed. Sometimes, just talking to a trained mental health provider will put you at ease. Many medical students or physicians ignore their mental health issues for fear of stigmatization. As medical providers, we must remember that we cannot fully take care of others until we fully take care of ourselves. This stigma will not be broken until we all understand the importance of our mental and emotional well-being.
10. The Medical School Dean
Medical school deans have years of experience working with hundreds of students. You might be surprised how much they can help you. If you are interested in a certain specialty, they can put you in touch with contacts in that field. They eventually write recommendation letters for you and can play a role in your residency match. I remember as a second-year medical student, I did not score as well as I wanted on my comprehensive basic science exam (CBSE) despite earning great grades throughout the first two years. I emailed my medical school deal with my concerns, and he sent me four quotes from senior medical students who had been in a similar situation as me. One student talked about how they felt the CBSE wasn’t a great predictor of Step 1 scores for him. Another student talked about how she underperformed on the CBSE simply because she was burnt out at the end of the year, but she recharged and scored significantly higher on step 1. Receiving this email from my dean helped to change my mindset and finish out my school year strong. However, your deans can only help you if you let them know you need assistance.
Keep in mind that medical school is not easy for anyone. At some point, we should all ask for help, whether that comes in the form of emotional support from our parents or spouse, academic assistance from a professor or tutor, or career guidance from a mentor. Please remember that you don’t have to navigate medical school alone, and never be afraid to ask for help.