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The Elephant in the Room


 

They cannot ignore the elephant in the room: they are just a number to medical school admissions committees.

They are just average. They are afraid –------- and confused.

They are confused about why they’re afraid. Ironic. After all, they are good students. Why should they be afraid of being an average pre-med student? Their MCAT went well. They even have research and clinical experience hours under their belt. Their pre-med checklist is practically perfect.

Yet they doubt themselves.


What if I told you that their fear is not based on reality? What if they are not actually afraid of being “average”? What if instead, over all the years that they have spent measuring their self-worth on a scale of letters or numbers, they have forgotten how to nurture other, more lasting aspects of self-worth?

 

Before I continue, notice I made sure to use “they" in every sentence up until now. Now replace every “they” with “you.” Think about it. Everyone is looking at pre-med students, “them,” for the solutions to their problems. Yet what many forget is that “they” are humans with a heart, mind, and soul.


With this abundance of expectations for future scientists and healthcare workers to always maintain the highest standards in the interest of the community, we are constantly being pushed to meet and exceed these standards because our dream professions require selfless service. We assume the responsibility of beating the average and hustle to be “the best” at what we do, while at the same time losing ourselves in the midst of all the academic chaos.


We’ve learned to become afraid of being average.


It is a vicious avalanche. The more we limit our views to the standards of society, the more we lose pieces of ourselves. The more we lose ourselves, the more we fear the average. The more we fear it, the more we become it.


It takes practice to learn how to care for oneself, but as we are taught to care for others in such a large capacity, we forget to care for ourselves. By the time we become established as healthcare professionals, we should feel comfortable with a personalized, well-rounded self-care routine.


Take a look at the following graph obtained from the National Council and the analysis below:


Analysis: In 2015, there were nearly 900,000 active doctors of medicine in the U.S. In comparison, 400 doctors completing suicide might not seem like a concerning number. In 2018, the CDC reported that suicide claimed the lives of over 48,000 people. Compared to this number, 400 does take up a larger percentage.


Although I will not argue that statistics are essential to science, society has overused statistics to such an extent as to objectify a social problem, such as suicide. Social problems do not get solved by knowing the statistics alone. They cannot be solved by a single voice. It takes the consolidated effort by the individuals of our society to slowly resolve these issues into which we have been born.

 

Here is an especially important message for future healthcare providers, leaders, and future science researchers who will soon carry the weight of the world on our shoulders:


If we do not take the initiative to care for ourselves, no one will. We are, after all, experts in “our field”…

 

When was the last time you’ve reflected on yourself? Not your grades. Not societal standards. Not how others perceive you. When did you last reflect on you?


Try it out:

  1. Reflect on your well-being.

    1. Ask yourself: “How am I feeling today? – No, how am I really feeling today?

    2. In the U.S., we’re often asked how we’re doing but are never expected to talk about how great or how sad we are feeling. People offer us limited compassion with this question, which is why we have to ask ourselves: "How am I really doing?" It is best to be blatantly honest.

    3. What if you don’t feel like you anymore? Should you give up? No, you overcome your fears. You overcome them until someday you look at yourself in a mirror and notice that long-lost sparkle in your eyes.

    4. Provoke your perception with questions like: “Who am I? Am I the person I think I am? Do I want to be this person?” No matter how much it hurts, be honest with yourself.

  2. Reflect on your past.

    1. Don’t dwell on the past, but take a moment to connect with it.

    2. Ask yourself: “What are some of my fondest memories growing up? What are some of my recent favorites? What are the memories I’d rather throw into a large pit in the middle of nowhere?

    3. When asking yourself these questions, do not let failures or dismal memories become overwhelming. Processing and making sense of these memories, whether they be bad grades or life disasters, is important for healing, growth, and our understanding of ourselves.

  3. Question your actions.

    1. Part of reflecting on yourself relies on separating yourself from the world around you, including your past and your future. You should answer the following questions without any external influence, including plans for the future:

    2. Whose life am I really living? Am I okay with that? What do I value? Is there something I would rather be doing?

  4. Take advantage of your relationships.

    1. Whether they be friends, romantic partners, or family members, know that they are close to you because they admire you. They love you because of who you are and despite who you are. The point of life is not to live in solitude but in a community.

    2. Of course, it is important to question these relationships. Ask yourself: “Is my relationship with ___ a healthy stressor? Am I living my truest self with ___?

    3. Note: regardless of how introverts are stereotyped – everyone needs someone to lean on, so, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

  5. Make yourself busy.

    1. Several studies have shown that early retirees usually die sooner. Retirement may sound far off for high school and college students, however, an Oregon State University research study found something very interesting: Work brings people not only economic but also social benefits which impact the length of their lives.

    2. Let us use the results of this study to our advantage by taking it a step further.

      1. In the workplace, we are busy. When we are busy, many of us like to grab a handy notebook to write out our daily schedule.

      2. Although not all of us use planners to organize our events, what are we really doing? We are making sure that we spend our time wisely.

    3. It is okay to be busy! Just remember to spend your time wisely. If you need quality time with your pet before going to work instead of 30 minutes in the gym, because it makes you happier, do it. If that means you need to journal a few minutes before going to bed every night instead of watching TV, do it.


There is nothing average about being a STEMM student. There is nothing average about taking time to re-evaluate your decisions in life and your path. Nothing is absolute, which is why you are not stuck in the current moment, or your current fears. Don’t worry about the “ifs” all the time. Take a few moments every day to listen to your heart. Give your mind a rest. Breathe. Everything will be alright. Just focus on reality, and hang on to hope.


 

Lastly, here are a few wise closing words by Brooke Hampton, about being busythe healthy way:


I’m busy;

but not in the way

most people accept.

I’m busy calming my fear

and finding my courage.

I’m busy listening to my kids.

I’m busy getting in touch

with what is real.

I’m busy growing things and

connecting with the natural world.

I’m busy questioning my answers.

I’m busy being present in my life.

~Brooke Hampton, Barefoot Five

 

Thanks for stopping by! :)

~Ryen Belle Harran~

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