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Mixing it up

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The trouble with medicine (or should I say, one of the troubles) is that it tends to leave you with tunnel vision for that rotation, that class, the job, the title. Pituitary adenoma jokes aside, I’m saying that in short order, our entire life becomes medical.

I’ve already seen it since starting medical school – I study with other medical students; I relax with other medical students. And of course it is important to have a close group of colleagues to get you through the day, but it becomes hard to see outside of our world. When meeting up with close friends who have not chosen medicine as their career, we find it difficult to find common ground. Pretty soon we find ourselves talking about interesting cases we’ve heard of, or the best procrastination techniques we’ve come up with.

It’s important that we work hard to connect with people outside the medical profession, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives us perspective on our own challenges. Studying and working in such a high-functioning world, we begin to forget how lucky we have it. We take for granted that we did well in school, that we have a stable job and good support systems. We become complacent to our own self-worth, which can have damaging consequences.

Secondly, connecting with the general public helps us communicate with our patients. It’s funny how many times I’ve seen doctors become frustrated with their patients not understanding medical jargon straight away. We forget that over many years doctors have learnt a new language – again, we take that for granted. The more we talk to the average human in a social setting, the better we can understand our patient when it really matters.

Third, although we enjoy our common goal in medical school – to finally graduate – we also must remember that in five to ten years we will all be choosing a path that is likely not the same as our peers. Our path will lead us to new challenges and eventually a consultancy that will be very unlikely to be with all of our current year group. Pushing yourself to make friends outside of medicine will continue to nourish you when your colleagues start to drift in different directions.

The other thing is, having something outside of medicine is important when things go wrong. Too often the stress of patient care, the normality of paying bills and the reality of exams thwack us into distress and burnout. This can all be alleviated by having something non-medical to concentrate on.

This may be a watching a sporting event, volunteering for meals on wheels, a weekly catch-up with high school friends, or exercising. Meeting with non-medical people may enhance your perspective and let you reframe your thinking from the heights of evidence-based medicine, journals and routines, appointments and rounds, and focus your thoughts on relating back to people.

It may seem ridiculous to add something to your plate when you’re already incredibly busy, but it actually restores balance and leaves you feeling refreshed. You’re forced to forget about your work and focus on something entirely unrelated to that world.

My advice to medical students is to not neglect their lives. Yes, it’s important to make the most of your medical school experience, taking time to study and learn the necessary medical knowledge. However, it’s just as important to learn to find balance – to exercise, to talk to non-medical people and to enjoy doing non-medical things. I guarantee it’s worth it.

Email: rob.thomas@amsa.org.au

Twitter: @robmtom