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  • Society of Bioethics and Medicine

The Uphill Battle of Becoming a Doctor: Social Solitude

Written by Sanjana Ahmed

Edited by Lok-Yee Lam

As a pre-medical student, I know that most people can recognize that becoming a doctor is no easy feat. Not only do we have to maintain stellar grades and foster group relationships with mentors and professors for the sake of recommendation letters, but we also fill up the rest of our time by pursuing intense extracurriculars in hopes of fulfilling requirements and standing out amongst our peers. It is no wonder that many of us end up leaving our social lives by the wayside when pursuing such a career path.

Of course, one of the key lessons every pre-medical student learns at some point in their academic career is that sometimes you have to give up certain things in order to succeed. Prioritization is not only crucial for people who endeavor to become doctors, but also for life in general. However, some students neglect their social lives to the point where they can become utterly isolated.

People often consider humans to be a species that thrives off of interaction with others, something that the pandemic continues to highlight. Following this logic, it makes sense that isolation and loneliness can also take a toll on a person’s mental wellbeing. As pre-medical students enroll in rigorous courses alongside their extensive extracurricular activities, stress can pile up. In conjunction with being isolated and cut-off from social groups can lead to a plethora of issues as a result.

One cannot overlook the competitive nature of pre-medical students as well when discussing the peculiarities of the community. As medical schools are notoriously difficult to get into, students understand early on that their peers are their competition. Over the years, horror stories of sabotage amongst pre-medical students have sprouted up to the point where students have had instructors warn them about such cases and been advised to constantly stay vigilant, particularly in lab classes. Therefore, not only can students self isolate themselves by accident as a result of their overwhelming schedules, but they also may choose to purposefully do so as a protective measure.

So, what can be done to combat this? From one perspective, we can argue that this is not a systemic issue, but a personal one and thus it is up to individual students to take the initiative to work on their time management and organizational skills. We can recommend that students do not need to overwhelm themselves with courses at once if they know they are not up to that caliber.

Or we can treat this as a systemic issue. Although things are slow to change and it is highly unlikely that medical schools will change their requirements, students can encourage their schools to provide more intensive mental health services to cater to the needs of their students. Although many undergraduate schools do have such services available, students can help to get them more funding by rallying behind them with their support to improve the quality of care available to them.

When it comes to something as personal as a person’s social life and mental health, it is hard to offer a solution without knowing the whole story. From one pre-medical student to another, I know your grades are important, but so is your wellbeing. Your success is important but you do not need to strive for it alone.

As we endeavor to enter a field where decision making is a vital part of the job, we know not everything is a cut and dry type of answer. So, we have to gauge our own situations and sort our priorities in the way we deem fit all while taking care of ourselves and thinking ahead.

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