So, You Love a Student Doctor…
You are the few. The chosen. Perhaps the disillusioned.
But without you, we couldn’t make it.
Medicine is a tough road to travel and not just for the student.
Sometimes (ok, often times…) it’s the family and friends that get the brunt of it.
At the beginning of the school year, I posted 10 Practical Tips for Your First Year of Medical School. It was a pretty big hit, even with some people in law school…it’s all pretty much the same, just a different language, right?
But I wanted to write something for the loved ones of those who have chosen this type of self-torture…because this is an adjustment for everyone around.
And who better to help me with this than the man that has held it all together? From the night feedings to potty training, my husband has been there…and has done most of it as a result of the demands of school.
Here are a few things that we thought of that might be helpful.
It offers both perspectives…and I even color-coded it for you, (though if you know us, you could probably figure out who is saying what).
Never say “I understand”. Those of us who are in medical school don’t even understand what is happening. That being said, there is no way that you can understand unless you have those two special letters behind your name. Even if you just mean to be sympathetic, that statement won’t get you very far. Try something like “I can see how that would be stressful.” As cheesy as it sounds (and as much as we make fun of our empathy lectures), it produces a much better outcome to a conversation.
Try to understand. Even though you can’t ever say it, do your best to understand the stress your significant other or loved one is under. It will help you be sympathetic in the right moments, and will go a long way to make them feel important. Know their test schedule. Take a glance at what they are studying. I figured out that they don’t stretch med school over 4 years….it’s crammed into 4 years.
30 minutes is a BIG deal. If a med student gives you this much or more undivided attention, equate it to a potential $20,000 (aka tuition cost if we have to redo a class.) Also keep in mind, that if you watch the clock with us, we will want to hang out with you more, because there isn’t a complete chaotic mess of studying to do afterwards…well, at least not an added amount.
When they have time, be all there. Quality time is scarce. When they have time to give you, be 100% there. Turn off your phone, unplug the computer, turn off the TV. If it’s a significant other, and you get a date night (WOO!), turn your cell phone off for the duration of the night. Little things like this will help you both remember why you’re together in the first place. Med school and the stress that comes with it can make you forget if you’re not careful.
Be supportive of the goal. We spend all day studying our butts off, only to be told after each test that it just wasn’t good enough. The last thing we need is for someone that we trust and love to respond with “Maybe you should” when we threaten to quit. We don’t really want to quit. We would hate ourselves if we did. But we have to get it out of our system. Just listen. Tell us we can do it and that you will be there with us through it…and that you will bring a Dr. Pepper to help.
Remind them that you love them. Over and over and over again. It will be easy for the stress of school to overwhelm everyone involved, and especially in first year, you will find that you fight a lot more than you’re used to. Remind them that you love them. Often. And remind them that you are on their team. Whatever their love language is, speak it louder than normal. The science clogs their ears.
Take care of the “small stuff”. And by “small stuff”, I mean anything that isn’t studying for the next exam. If you do things to save the student time, you will be their favorite person. Plan dinners close to their house/where they study. Bring them dinner, set a timer, and leave when it goes off. They don’t want to stop hanging out. But sometimes they HAVE to unless they made a previous decision to take the night off. Run an errand for them. Offer to get their white coat cleaned. Those 10 minute jobs add up quickly!!!
Make sure they have what they need. Food, drink, school supplies, etc. Checking in goes a long way. Fill up their car with gas. Make sure you’re stocked up on their favorite food/drink. Take care of dinner plans. Let them know you have their back.
Be understanding if plans have to change or they don’t make every function that they used to. Maybe they underestimated how much studying they have to do. Maybe they underestimated how tired they would be after a big block of tests. Sometimes, med students need more down time than just the drive to and from class. It really is nothing personal, but sometimes cancelling or changing plans is necessary to avoid a breakdown.
Be patient. Just as much as you’re trying to figure out this new lifestyle, they are too– even more so, actually. They are freaked out, insecure, nervous, and exhausted. (Movie reference, anyone?) They will be a little snippier than usual, especially come exam time. Try to cut them some extra slack.
Sit in the same room- (If you can keep your mouth shut.) You may not be able to just pop in a movie and chill on the couch together, but if you have things to do, try to do it together. Even if you’re just facebooking, folding laundry, paying bills, etc., do it in the same room. Med school has this way of making someone feel cut off from the world, and sometimes just being there is huge.
This is a hard road to plow for everyone involved. Few will understand the stress that the entire family is under during this process.
But if you have found a handful of people that do, count yourself lucky…and thank them as much as possible. They do a lot more than you realize.
Hang in there!