By Rebecca Stone
‘The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention’ – Oscar Wilde Continue reading
‘The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention’ – Oscar Wilde Continue reading
To My Year A Self,
You’ve just arrived in Churchill and it is not what you expected it to be. When you thought “rural” you pictured rolling hills and gumtrees. You did not picture a somewhat post-apocalyptic landscape marred by a coal mine, and fields bathed in the glow of the power stations. When you thought “country town” you thought of a tight-knit, friendly community. You will be shocked to realise that several med houses have already been robbed.
You’ll walk to the main shopping area, which will take approximately 3 minutes to explore. The dining options are limited, but you’ll comfort yourself with the fact that you’ll spend less energy thinking about what to eat and therefore have more energy to study. It’s kind of like how Obama only had blue or grey suits, so he’d spend less time choosing what to wear and more time making other important decisions. Kind of.
You’ll meet everyone, make some friends and go to your first lecture, only to be told it will be your last. You’ll be hit with the “flipped classroom model” and “lectorials” and be asked far too many times if you’re #medready. The flipped classroom in year A means that you’ll be watching lectures online and coming to tutorials ready to discuss what you’ve learnt- so basically what you did in undergrad when you didn’t feel like physically turning up to lectures. The first few weeks will be spent conducting a complete overhaul of your learning style, resigning yourself to the fact that flashcards are the only way you’re going to be able to memorise all the content they’ve thrown at you.
You took anatomy for a whole semester a couple of years ago, but as you look at the cadaver in the anatomy lab you will question where all the knowledge from your Biomedicine degree has gone. You will mistake a nerve for a tendon and feel your head start to throb, partially from stress and partially because of the formaldehyde.
On some days you will drink your weight in coffee to make up for your lack of sleep. For some godforsaken reason Federation University’s student society has decided to host parties in the building behind your room on Wednesday nights- the night before clinical skills days and hospital placements. Invest in some earplugs and try to go to bed at a reasonable hour. It is your only hope of getting a good night’s sleep and curbing your caffeine addiction.
When you meet your first patient in the hospital your ability to talk to another human being will promptly disappear. It will take a few more clinical encounters for you to realise that you can just talk to patients in the same way you would talk to another adult. You’ll learn how to build rapport and feel like you’re helping them, even though you have no formal role in their care. You’ll feel like you’re helping because they’ll tell you how happy they are to be contributing to your education, and at this point you’ll be taking all the encouragement you can get.
Although this year is going to be tough, I assure you that there will be time to laugh and enjoy this crazy journey. You’ll join a mixed netball team and realise that you are probably the worst netball player in history, but you’ll love playing all the same. You’re going to make some great friends, who will be there to support you when you’re struggling- academically or otherwise- because they’re all going through the same thing. You’ll motivate each other to study and run marathon OSCE sessions at each other’s houses. After exams are done you’ll play Cards Against Humanity, which will make you laugh until you can hardly breathe and will help you forget the horrendous history you took in station 3.
You’ll realise you must take care of yourself if you want to stay afloat this year, and you’ll realise this somewhere between polishing off a Woolies chocolate mud cake and opening another bottle of wine. Eating breakfast will become part of your morning ritual and will give you enough energy to get through lectorials. Going to the gym will become a daily habit as well, and it will be a welcome break between finishing class and going home to study. You’ll discover the life-changing concept of cooking in bulk and will be thankful for all the time you have saved, especially during exam time.
Although this isn’t what you thought medical school would be like, you’ll be grateful for the people you have met and the knowledge you have gained. As you move into your clinical years you’ll still feel a strange affinity for Churchill, and whenever someone mentions they also did year A there, you’ll exchange a knowing look and swap some funny stories. This year will be one of the most challenging, stressful and rewarding years of your university life. So, unpack your things, call your mum to let her know you’re safe, and take a deep breath. You’re going to be just fine.
A few months ago, I heard a noise coming from my car. A quiet, intermittent rattling – nothing of great significance – but I noticed it all the same. Continue reading
If someone asked me to tell them how my first year of medical school went, I would say that I thought I would be happier. Continue reading
“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.” – Michelle Obama
I came across this quote the other day as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. It’s an interesting idea, to liken a mental illness to a physical one. Depression and anxiety seem far removed from a broken arm or leg – but, at their core, are they really that different? Continue reading
By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of some of the most important positive emotions that contribute to a sense of wellbeing: gratitude, joy, and love, to name a few. But there’s one that is not often discussed, and that is awe. Awe is the feeling of goodness on a grand scale, of feeling overwhelmed by greatness, and often happens when we are looking at something magnificent like a landscape of huge mountains, or a wide-open ocean stretching as far as the eye can see. I’ve always felt happiest down by the beach or amongst the mountains and I’ve noticed that the first glimpse of ocean as I’m driving down to the beach, or the first time I see the mountain peaks on the drive to the snow, is met with a feeling of relief, relaxation, and happiness. Only recently have I learned that this sensation is a well-recognised phenomenon. Awe.
I’ve been lucky enough to get more than my fair share of awe in the past six months. In December I did the Annapurna circuit trek in Nepal with one of my friends. At the end of our trip, as we reflected on the two weeks of walking, we both agreed on the two best days of the walk – the days when we had the most incredible view of the Himalayas. On each of these days, as we reached the top of the hill, an expanse of enormous 8000-metre-high peaks simply stopped us in our tracks. We just stood there and admired them, feeling overwhelmed with awe, and couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day (despite our blisters!). Today it’s Easter Monday, and just yesterday I was walking over the Tongariro pass in New Zealand: home to some spectacular red volcanos and sparkling emerald lakes. I feel so lucky and happy to have been able to see that amazing landscape and appreciate all that the outdoors has to offer.
Of course, we can’t have these awe-inspiring moments every day. Even if some of us end up working up in the mountains or down by the beach, in a place that makes us stop and stare, it’s certainly not going to be the majority of us, and it is most definitely will not be the majority of medical school. Right now, our days consist of being inside our cars, public transport, lecture theatres, and hospital wards, often with not a lot of time for anything else. So how can we bring a little bit of awe into our everyday lives?
I firmly believe that being outside in the open air is like being in the mountains or at the beach on a mini scale. I know that the days when I take a moment to appreciate my surroundings are the days I feel happiest in all aspects of my life. So here a few of my ideas for how you can get outside every day, for no other reason than to put a smile on your face.
If you’re a morning person:
If you don’t already, try setting your alarm 10 or 15 minutes earlier, get up and go for a quick walk around your block. Look up at the trees. The leaves are changing colour at the moment and, as cheesy as it sounds, it really is beautiful. If you don’t like walking, find a spot to sit outside and stretch or wake up slowly.
On your way to uni:
Do you catch public transport? Take a moment when you’re walking to and from the train to look up at the sky. Most of you probably have to get going early, and Melbourne has some pretty impressive sunrises to offer. Do you drive your car? Park your car just a bit further away (like a million people before me have suggested) and use the time it takes to walk to relax and enjoy the cool autumn breeze.
Coffee time or lunch time:
If you brought your own lunch, take it outside to eat in the sunshine. If it’s raining, find somewhere under shelter and enjoy the smell of the rain. If you’re at the hospital and have a bit of time, walk to the café down the street to get your coffee, or go around the outside of the building to get to the good coffee place instead of through the over pass (yes MMC, I’m talking to you).
Catching up with friends:
Got a standing brunch date at your favourite café? Try switching it up for a coffee to go and a walk around your local park instead. You can appreciate the outdoors together and save some money at the same time!
Have you got a whole free weekend?!
Get outside and find yourself some awe! We’ve got the beaches from St Kilda down to the Peninsula, we’ve got the Dandenong Ranges just an easy walk from the Belgrave train line, there’s the Yarra Trail (my personal favourite) and all the other bike paths along rivers in Melbourne, and even something as simple as your local duck pond. If you’re really feeling adventurous then head down to the Great Ocean Road or up to the Victorian High Plains and walk, sit, and enjoy.
Self-care has become trendy lately. #selfcare has nearly 5 million posts on Instagram, and more on Twitter. But when you log into Instagram and hit up the search bar, the first few posts under #selfcare are of girls with their perfect beach tan glowing under the sun, captioned with something along the lines of ‘how to stay soft all day #selfcare #selflove’ and a long list of beauty products. Further down the page, there’s a post extolling the greatness of a morning bath for a busy mum, complete with a picture of a rose filled spa bath.
Somewhere along the line, something has gone horribly wrong.
When we think of self-care, there’s a trend towards self-indulgence. Self-care has become synonymous with ‘treat yourself’—a tub of ice cream for the days that are too stressful, a shopping splurge or ‘retail therapy’ because you deserve it. The face of self-care has become cold-pressed juices, yoga and motivational quotes. Even when we bring this back to the basics that we as medical students have understood and experienced, mindfulness has also been commercialised. The old Buddhist meditative way of living has evolved into McMindfulness that slots into busy consumer lives just as easily as a one-tap-pizza-to-door delivery service. Often it isn’t taught right. For some, myself included, the sort of meditation that is taught to us in first year only serves to heighten our anxiety and, at its worst, can trigger an episode of depersonalisation.
Self-care is anything that is initiated by a person to maintain their physical, mental and emotional health. The key word here is maintenance. The self-indulgent nature of the modern consumer based self-care so prevalent nowadays is not sustainable. We take photos of our salad and tag it #selfcare but behind the uploads are the bags of potato chips and a few too many batches of brownies that were stress-baked. We buy packs of face masks and beauty products for a night to ourselves but end up peeling off the black charcoal mask to reveal a festering layer of guilt for the wasteful spending of our savings.
And if you see a trend of self-care targeting wealthy females, that’s not entirely a coincidence.
Self-care is neither kind, nor indulgent. It is a chore to be practiced every day, every hour and every second. More than mindfulness, meditation and becoming aware of the present, it is a deep introspection of yourself. It is facing yourself in the mirror and criticising yourself so that you can be a better version of yourself.
It is, in fact, a dedication to discipline.
It takes time to cultivate a truly balanced mental state of mind, and it definitely will not bring a sense of instant gratification. That mental health day we take when we are burnt out serves to only bring us a sense of instant gratification that lasts maybe only a day or two. To draw a medical comparison, it is the band-aid fix to a chronic ulcer. By practicing good self-care and self-control every day, we reduce the chances of burning out. Perhaps we might even prevent needing a mental health day.
This is perhaps the trickiest part. Despite knowing exactly what is good self-care, how do we in fact SNAP ourselves? With the trend to become healthier mentally and physically, the motivation to get started is right there; and yet that gym membership is still unused despite saying that you will go to the gym every day since Craig Hassed taught you exercise is the essence of health.
It isn’t a lack of motivation. It’s hardly the lack of motivation with all the attention being focused on student and doctor wellbeing in the medical area, and also on self-care in the wider society (albeit in a self-indulgent way).
It may not even be an issue with laziness.
It’s a problem with converting words into action.
‘Taking care of yourself’ is a huge, intangible concept with so many branches and offshoots, it may as well be one of those mirror labyrinths. There’s the diet, the exercise, the work-life balance, the social aspect and the hobbies amidst all our study. By taking small steps, we can gradually incorporate every aspect of what good self-care looks like, and nurture a balanced physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. We can plan it all down to the details, we can allocate time and money, we can scout out which gym membership is cheaper and we can educate ourselves on the healthiest recipes and procrastinate and procrastinate, but in the end, we have to own up to the fact that motivation was never the culprit in the first place.
In the end, you just have to take a deep breath and commit to yourself.
Featured image from Yoga Journal
My relationship with Medicine has been a tumultuous one. It is very much like I’m dating medicine…
My love for Medicine started with an infatuation – a crush, as some might say. I was attracted to the prospects Medicine offered me. ‘He’ appeared reliable, strong, caring and sometimes even mesmerising. But that is all I know about Medicine. I was attracted to the security he provided me with, the respect everyone seemed to have for him, and his seemingly endless intellect. But that’s not why Medicine was attracted to me. He seemed to respect my diligence, my willingness to make sacrifices for the things I wanted. He appreciated the fact that I could hold my own against him.
Then Medicine asked me out. I vividly remember the day he did so – it was nearly 3 years ago now. Even the fact that he bothered to ask me out seemed like such an honour – people were practically throwing themselves at him – and here I was, a plain Jane, that Medicine asked out. I was elated to say the least. On our first date, he woke me up at 8am in the morning, with a call – telling me not to worry, the first few months of a relationship he said, were always the best – the Honeymoon period, or so he called it. And he was right, Medicine for those months, never ceased to be charming, provocative and ultimately seductive. He could’ve seduced those who were at first, totally uninterested in him, and put off by his demanding attitude. I did not just want to be with him, I wanted to be him.
And then we celebrated our first anniversary. The first of many, I would’ve hoped. He gave me a utilitarian, digital watch and says, ‘I don’t want you to miss any of our appointments – they’re all important’. I was so pleased at the gift – I hadn’t expected any, but at the same time, I was profoundly confused – surely, we will have some time outside of each other?
It was by third year that the cracks in our relationship started to appear. At first, the thought of spending all my time with him had made me so happy, but all of a sudden, as I watched my friends enjoy their social lives, I realised how restrictive our relationship had become. And that wasn’t all. There were stories. People who had dated him before told me to beware of the initial allure, of his initial charms. ‘He doesn’t work out for everyone, you know’, said a friend.
Third year, the relationship had become a chore. He wanted more and more. He was insatiable. My time, my intellect, my life: everything was not enough for him. Nothing was ever enough. Maybe our shabby foundation had started to rattle us. We decided, or rather, I decided, that I needed time away from him – time to do what I loved to do, without him intruding. I just didn’t feel like me anymore – I felt like my life was overrun with assignments, OSCEs, hospital placements and more.
During our time away from each other, I realised how shallow my reasons were for dating Medicine. What had attracted me to Medicine? Was it the unattainability? Was it the glamour? Was it the constant challenge? Was it the allure of making a difference? Perhaps it had been the strange amalgamation of all of the above.
As I contemplated my return to Medicine, I knew I would have to confront all I had learnt in the past 3 years. The reasons that had drawn me to Medicine initially, now appeared feeble – or even slightly repulsive. A return to Medicine would require stronger foundations. I needed to be able to justify the long hours, the years of less than desirable working conditions, the intellectual rigour and the physical exhaustion.
At the end of my deliberation, I decided to return to Medicine. In my cynical moments, I thought I was returning to him because I had nowhere to go. In my moments of positivity, I felt I was returning because of a faith that things would work out between us. But ultimately, the appeal of either of these extremes never lasted. I didn’t want to return to Medicine cynical or hopeful. What I did want to do however, was to return to Medicine not in a way that consumed me; but in a way that allowed me to retain who I was.
This is why we couldn’t date anymore. I look at Medicine now, as an equal. I’m not exhilarated by his presence, and I am no longer ignorant to his flaws. I want Medicine to be part of my life, not my whole life.
Featured image from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Continuous learning, long hours, difficulty with work-life balance. At 18, I said I understood these were the challenges faced by doctors, but at 18, fresh out of school, I didn’t really comprehend what I was agreeing to. I thought it wasn’t that big of an issue, I thought the life of a doctor could only be fantastic. How naive I was. Now on the home stretch of my medical degree, I’m finally reflecting on what I signed up for.
Medicine wasn’t something I fell into. I worked hard at it, and had to make some tough decisions to get where I am today. My family and I sacrificed a lot, but it was all I wanted, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I got my offer to Monash. Though moving to a new city where I didn’t know a single person was certainly daunting, I wanted this career so much and moving away was just a sacrifice I had to make.
It was difficult; far more difficult that I thought it would be. I missed my friends and family back home enormously, and there were periods of time where I cried every day. The endless lectures, tutorials and histology pracs were often a drag, and I was in major struggle town with anatomy, but I knew it would get better once I entered the hospital. And it did. I relished being part of the team, speaking to the patients and scrubbing into theatre. It was just as I thought it would be, and after finally having contact with patients, I knew this career was for me.
As the years went on, I began to realise the competitiveness of medicine and that it was a bit of a cutthroat world getting into a specialty. It seems like you need at least a master’s degree and several publications, plus experience, to get onto several training programs. How is this meant to possible when you’re also working extensive hours as a junior doctor? How can you work more than full time, study part time, research part time and have a life outside of this? The answer – make sacrifices and work yourself into the ground. At least that’s how it seems to me when I look around at a lot of the junior doctors. I look at my friends who didn’t study medicine with their great work-life balance and I can’t help but be jealous. They don’t have to put their lives on hold for years, and they have far more freedom and time to do the things they want.
Whilst I was told a career in medicine meant long-term study and long hours, I didn’t understand that what they really meant was I was partly screwing over my own life to save other peoples. It’s not that I dislike the career; being in the hospital, helping the patients, coming home in the evening and knowing the difference you’ve made for even just one person is truly special and very rewarding. I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to help people through difficult times in their life, but I do feel sad that it affects my life and my relationships in so many ways. I feel sad for all the sacrifices I’ve made, and all the ones I’m yet to make.
Only a few weeks into my first rotation of final year I experienced burnout. It seemed odd that after three months of holidays I could feel this way, but the prospect of job applications, getting references and paving a pathway towards a specialty training program, as well as the difficult transition back into clinical medicine after a year in a lab, was just too much. I was recently told by someone close to me that I’m no longer the same person I used to be, that my degree has changed me and the happy bubbly person I once was had disappeared. When and how did this happen? A conversation with my doctor made me realise that I hadn’t really stopped in a very long time. I’ve been studying hard since the beginning of high school and continued straight into med school. I’ve always been busy, juggling a job, committee roles, volunteer work and the responsibilities of living out of home. I have always placed immense pressure on myself, and now I’d reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. My doctor asked me to take a break and do something for myself, something I enjoyed doing, something not related to med. In all honesty, I didn’t know what that was, despite all the advice to keep up hobbies and have a life outside of medicine, I hadn’t, and over the course of my degree I’d lost myself along the way.
After two weeks of lying on the beach, catching up with old friends, going to galleries and plays, seeing new places in a city I’ve lived in for years – after two weeks of starting to live again, I don’t want to go back to “not living”. Whether that means actually taking time for myself regularly and not getting swallowed by the med monster again, or leaving the med bubble entirely, I’m not sure. It’s going to take some more time for me to figure out what the future holds, but just because I graduate as a doctor, doesn’t mean I’m bound to work as one forever. It won’t mean I’ve wasted my degree, or wasted my time, if I choose to pursue something else. I’ll have had some great experiences and learnt so much. My life is important too, and maybe I need to be a selfish and do what’s best for me.
Dear reader, we live in strange times. We’ve been told countless times of the evils of sugar, the perils of experimenting with drugs, and the hazards of straying from the Mediterranean diet. But there’s an important warning that’s never a part of these conversations, something that has an even worse impact on mortality than obesity: loneliness and social isolation.(1)