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Anxiety within medicine is prolific, but something we don’t acknowledge enough.
This is not surprising considering it is an emotionally and physically demanding process; that we will be working in an overstretched and underfunded service; and that medics are a more neurotic and perfectionist group than average.
However, although we talk about anxiety, it’s often in an abstract way: it happens ‘sometimes’ to ‘some people’ and is something we should talk about. I don’t want to talk abstractedly: this is something which I myself have faced personally, and which has affected many of my friends and colleagues.
I think there are three main topics which evoke anxiety among medical students:
One thing that definitely perpetuates these worries and anxiety in general, is comparing yourself to others around you. It is the easiest thing in the world to do but can result in feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. It is clichéd to say, but we are all different – we work in different ways and to differing extents, with strengths and weaknesses in different areas. There is no one correct way to be a good doctor or to get through medical school, so as much as possible I would urge you to only consider your progress – compare yourself to you a year ago and see how you have developed.
My mantra for managing medicine-related stress is this: I have to make medicine a career that works around my life, rather than moulding my life around my medical career. Within sixth form, I sacrificed my social life somewhat, to ensure I was able to obtain the necessary grades to get into medical school. However, since coming to university, I have tried my hardest to readjust this balance, seeing family and friends at every opportunity, taking up new hobbies and travelling as much as possible. I do this because my life cannot be ‘on-hold’ forever for medicine. I could be like ‘I will just keep my head down for 5/6 years of medical school’, but then comes two very intense foundation programme years, and then 5-10 further years to progress with my chosen speciality. Medicine will ask for more, and I don’t believe we become the best doctors by giving in to these demands.
So remember, there is not one correct way to be a doctor. You could work in a hospital, or locum, be a GP, or even go into medicolegal work, quit medicine or work abroad. Just because you have an MBBS, doesn’t mean your fate is sealed – the world is still your oyster.
Katherine Harris is a medical student and BMA rep for Hull York Medical School
I just want to add that sometimes medicine might give you moments of 'health anxiety' (previously known as hyperchondria) where you learn so much about disease you have a fleeting moment of panic about your health and that of your family. For many of us this happens but doesn't last more than this, if it continues seek help.
I really identify with this - thank you :)
I relate so much with this. Thank you!
Thank you so much for writing this. It resonates so much with what I'm going through at the moment. I feel so alone in this, yet am so terrified of speaking to others about what I'm going through.
I had never realised my thinking patterns and habits were a legitimate problem until I read this. This concept of putting life on-hold for medicine was something I did subconsciously well before entering medical school. It started out general - I told myself, 'You need to put X on hold to reach X milestone and then things can go back to normal'. But you get accustomed to that form of restriction such that, in order to reach the next goal your natural instinct is to restrict yourself even further, rather than getting back to the normal you had at the start. And then one day you find yourself completely burnt out, unable to recognise yourself and disinterested in everything. All in pursuit of seemingly worthwhile goals. A scheduled period of prioritising your career has morphed into a life of increasing restriction each year, in order to keep up with increasing demands. Thank you for acknowledging very real fears and harmful patterns that have gone unchecked for too long.
You are right, almost everyone can have problems with anxiety. My best friend is also a doctor and says that at the earliest stage of training also suffered anxiety on almost any occasion. With depression, he came out only after half a year
He said that consulting with doctors, and podcasts on https://anxietyexit.com helped him through it. Think that under the right supervision coaches and doctors can be get rid of just
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