Junior doctors' contract, Medicine, Mental Health, Patient care, Reality, Stress

Coming to terms with Medical School

Studying at medical school had always been my dream, and I’d envisioned that finally achieving my goal would reward me with an eternal feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. However, I couldn’t be further from the truth. I felt like my entire life thus far had been tirelessly spent on getting to this exact point in time, and once I had arrived there, I had no idea what I was doing anymore. It was almost… anti-climatic.

Most of my time, I felt lost and confused. I wasn’t sure why I was at medical school, and realised that all the tough competition I’d endured to get myself there was apparently only so I could do it all over again at medical school. And the prospect of maintaining the same level of endurance to do well and pass my exams for the rest of my life, in my pursuit to become a doctor made me feel exhausted. I was surrounded by insanely intelligent students from all around the world, who suddenly made me, the ‘all-A*-pupil’, feel like an absolute idiot. There was no way I could compete with them, and suddenly I went from getting 90% and above in my exams in sixth form, to just about scraping a 40% pass in my medical exams.

To say this whole experience was demotivating, would be an understatement.

After coming to medical school, I finally realised why the admissions process is so bloody difficult. It’s because getting through the workload at medical school is meant to be even more stressful, and the stress of being a doctor surpasses all of that put together. As this realisation hit, I really lost all enjoyment of studying medicine. Sure, it it was ‘a-dream-come-true’ which supposedly should have made me grateful as a lot of people never get there despite their best efforts, but I suddenly envied all those who weren’t studying medicine.

About the same time that I got into med school in 2015, the whole junior doctors’ contract controversy erupted, which made me even more doubtful of my happiness in working as an NHS doctor in 6 years’ time. Would all my efforts be worth it in the end? I robotically sat through my lectures for the first 2 years, fighting the overpowering urge to fall asleep on my laptop. I destroyed my social life before it had even had a chance to bloom so that I could prevent having to fail and retake any of my exams.

Don’t get me wrong – I still loved the idea of being able to be an important part of the medical team to care for patients as a doctor, but I was worried more about the implications the whole process was having and would have on my health and wellbeing. Although the vast majority of doctors are inherently altruistic, doctors do what they do for a living – and realistically not earning enough to purchase simple commodities is frankly depressing. What is even more depressing is not being able to take enough time off work to see family, friends, or even the walls of your own room for days at a time. And the more I learned about the real struggle that junior doctors face in the NHS, the more fearful it made me of my future.

My first 2 years at medical school really dragged me down. I got through them because I felt I had no option, but my motivation had dropped significantly since coming to medical school. What reignited the original interest I had for wanting to become a doctor, was not the draining lectures from 9-5 everyday; it was the experience that I’d had with real patients on wards. During clinical placements, I was able to really connect with the patients I would talk to, and although I was meant to be taking medical histories from them, I confess that most of the time, I was just chatting to them about their interests and having a laugh. And that made me (and still makes me) so happy. Bonding with them makes me see the reward in going through all the hard work I’m doing now. One day, I might be the person who helps bring them back from the jaws of death, or help make them as comfortable as possible whilst they pass away.

That’s what keeps me going now.