A Letter to my Year A Self

Anonymous Author

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.

 

“Have You Tried Being Happy?”

By Adya Choudhary

“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

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

By Alexander Bell

“It’s like there’s a cloud that comes over you, and it just won’t leave.”

That’s the assessment my girlfriend once gave me of the periods where I’ve struggled with my mental health. From my perspective that analogy could not be more apt.

Times where I struggle with negative thoughts and emotions are like cloudy days. Of course, much like the overcast sky, these days don’t always look the same. On some days, there’s a smattering of light clouds: short periods of sadness or worry that quickly transform into blissful sunshine. Other days find only the occasional ray of short-lived sunshine poking through a heavily-veiled sky. Sometimes a morning shower can give way to a clear sky of blue, while on other occasions the bright sun of the morning can hide a lurking dreary afternoon. Very occasionally, the day is a storm: a thick band of dark, unrelenting grey that stretches as far as the eye can see. Sometimes, a storm will mark an aberration from an otherwise sunny week. Other times, I spend weeks wondering if the sky will ever be clear again.

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Putting the “Me” back in “Medicine”

By Jessica Stark

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.

 


 

Do Better: On the pursuit of perfection

By Mary Crabtree

Do better. Be better. Think better. We are relentlessly slammed with this pressure to do and be and think better. It comes from inside our own heads, and from an illusion that medical students should be able to ‘handle it’. We are inflated by those fleeting moments of praise from a consultant or an inspiring patient encounter, but this feeling is too often swiftly replaced by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

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