Anxiety and 1st Year Medical School: 15 Lessons Learned

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It’s hard not to get anxious when you’re finally going to do something you’ve always wished for. My anxiety didn’t just pop out of nowhere. Its foundation started during college.

Whenever I received marks that are below average, the thought of “is this really for me?” comes kicking in. I’m thinking what if I just choose a different program other than this? However, I couldn’t see myself in any other field that’s why I had to suck it up.

After the long process of medical school applications, I finally enrolled for the first-year program. The feeling was surreal. My mom was always cheering for me. Now, I’m a step closer to becoming a five-star physician!

My heart pounded as if I just completed a marathon. I didn’t know if what I felt was pure excitement because finally, after hell years of college, I’m now a certified “medical student.”

I was blessed, to be honest.

But I was also feeling restless.

Weeks before school starts, I said that I need to enjoy this vacation because I’m sure I won’t be having this kind of break once I start focusing on my studiesSpoiler alert: COVID-19 will happen in 2020!

Now, why did I feel restless? Is it because I’m too excited?

Self-doubt

My friends were happy for me whenever I tell them that I’m feeling anxious. I can tell that they are proud of me but I was feeling more like an imposter.

This is it. I messed up in college a lot but I MUST not do it again in medicine. What if I fail? How about the amount of money being wasted if that happens? What about my love life? My social life? These thoughts were haunting me.

I thought I had to give them all up because I had to focus… At least that’s what the (older) professors were telling us in the orientation.

Nonetheless, there is no denying that I didn’t doubt myself. I did it multiple times before even trying. Fear won over me a lot of times too.

Pedagogy

After going to school for a week full of orientation, I was pumped up! This school cares, I thought. The institution’s way of introducing medical students to the world of medicine was remarkable. I commend my school for having programs like Pedagogy and Agape.

To put it simply, we were grouped alphabetically with 10 members per pedagogy group. Each will have one facilitator, a doctor-professor. It’s a chance to get to know your classmates. Where they come from, why they choose medicine, and what they expect in medicine.

It’s funny because I hated group talks like that. I wasn’t into sharing my thoughts to a bunch of people I barely know (that time). But after a day in pedagogy, I learned to appreciate their efforts. I think it’s nice to have because it was like an actual preparation for the hell years to come.

I also realized how important self-reflecting was. Just knowing what to expect, how you will study, and get along with your peers kind of helped me on jumpstarting my medical journey. My mindset was focused on doing a good job at the university.

I’m going to pass has been my mantra ever since.

“You’re going to be a doctor”

It’s what I say whenever I feel heavy because of the overwhelming tasks and never-ending readings.

If my anxiety comes up again, I’m going to be a doctor.

If I failed an exam, I’m going to be a doctor.

Whatever happens, I’m going to be a doctor.

It’s a nice way to trick my mind and eliminate negative self-talk. I never knew this change of mindset would help me alter the way I feel and act.

A simple affirmation leads to a positive outcome. I was studying pretty well. Eventually, I learned how to say no to temptations like drinking and playing or even watching Netflix.

I was determined to pass my first year. However, it wasn’t always perfect.

Help a friend out

I’m saying I didn’t do my best to help my friends. I was too focused on consuming study materials. In fact, I didn’t try other ways to help them.

I felt like the whole batch was on a ride of competition. We weren’t united. There were X numbers of groups in one batch of 82 students.

Although I’m thankful I surrounded myself with friends who aren’t competitive.

Yet again, my old friend ‘imposter syndrome’ visited me from time to time.

Whenever a friend or classmate tells me that I’m smart that’s why I don’t need to study much, I felt more degraded. My thoughts were either “I’m not good enough,” or “what are you talking about?” but I always smile in response because I have no energy to continue conversations like that.

Lessons I learned

There are a lot of things that I wish I knew during the first year. YouTube videos about medicine and studying weren’t enough. I still have to experience mistakes to be able to learn.

Here are 15 things I learned from the first year:

  1. Medicine is not a competition of who the best doctor will be from a pool of hardworking students.
  2. A class must be united to help everyone and pass the year as one.
  3. See your classmates as comrades instead of competitors.
  4. You should share/teach what you know.
  5. Study to learn and not just pass. Repeat this mentally until you get the hang of it.
  6. There is no excuse to not take care of yourself. Exercise and eat healthily every day.
  7. No one is ever too busy. Learn to prioritize so that you can have a day or two free.
  8. Talk to your family and friends. Ask how they are today and be there in the now. Relax.
  9. Sleep if you are tired. You will be counter-productive if you work without enough energy or the right mindset.
  10. Learn to enjoy learning. Study how to study and learn how you can engineer your study environment.
  11. It’s okay to fail. Accept it and change your methods.
  12. Trust the process. Studying is hard but you have to trust in yourself.
  13. Believe that you are capable of learning new things. Hence, your potential is limitless!
  14. Learn how to take care of your brain. You will need it so much. 
  15. Pray and meditate. When in doubt, meditate and pray.

I hope this helped some incoming medical students in the Philippines. We are uncertain of what will happen to our country’s education. But we can still hope and pray.

May it be online-based, television, radio, or face-to-face learning. Let’s continue to use whatever we have wisely and be grateful for it.

Let’s help each and everyone out. No students will be left behind.

I’ll end this article with a question for you:

What affirmation do you say when you start to doubt yourself?

Let me know in the comment section below! 🙂

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2 Replies to “Anxiety and 1st Year Medical School: 15 Lessons Learned”

  1. Imposter syndrome in med school/intern year is so real! Good luck to you!

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