An Interview with a Medical Student: @itsamedicslife
Over the last few weeks here at AvatarJo, we have been interviewing young medical students, who have been impacted in various ways by Covid-19, from shifts to online learning and video consultations, to being employed directly at the front lines (read about our interviews with @fastforwardstudent and @the.sassy.medic).
You’d think that the difficulties young medics face these days might demotivate them to the extent that they might re-evaluate their decisions to study medicine. But the responses we’ve had from our interviews have overwhelmingly proved the opposite.
@itsamedicslife, a fourth-year medical student and aspiring surgeon, is an awe-inspiring example of one of these strong and motivated people. She stated, full of confidence, that the pandemic “has made her even prouder to be following [her] dream of studying medicine. Seeing the impact that the medical staff are having on people during this unprecedented time is heart-warming and [she feels] proud to be in this field.”
All her responses to our questions about her experiences throughout the pandemic were enormously optimistic – it’s obvious that she's a glass-half-full kind of person, which is exactly the kind of perspective the world needs in these times. She told us about how she had witnessed so many inspirational stories that it was difficult to choose only one to document here. In the end, she said the stories that had the strongest impact on her were “those from younger people in the community helping more elderly, vulnerable people. I have friends who have been shopping, picking up prescriptions and talking to their elderly neighbours and I think this is truly inspiring. It’s breaking down generational stereotypes, bridging the gap between two age groups and countering isolation during this difficult time. Not only is it positively impacting the elderly but giving and helping does wonders for mental health so I’m glad that young people are using their time so wisely to help others.”
She also had an immense amount of perspective in telling us about the effects that this has all had on her personally. She appreciates that the pandemic “has jolted everyone’s lives and we’ve had to adapt to drastic changes very quickly”, and that “it was hard at the time”. Nonetheless, she emphasises the benefits that the experience has had on her future, saying it “has certainly made me more flexible to change and has allowed me to do exams/assignments in much harder situations.” She also highlights her newfound acceptance that “it is okay to not be okay."
Overall, she feels she has “grown as a person, as well as a medical student."
We also asked her about several things relating to what she had spoken about on her social media platform. In one of her recent posts she identifies a common struggle among medical students in their transitions from pre-clinical to clinical, mostly with regards to difficulties in communication. She says on her post that you can’t “learn how to talk” from textbooks, and she elaborated on this in our interview:
“As doctors, our primary role will be speaking to patients. Yes, we’ll be diagnosing and treating these patients too but we can only do that by speaking to them first so I think it’s vital to learn how to build a rapport with all patients and learn how to be friendly and polite while also getting the information you need from them! It’s a skill I don’t think textbooks can ever teach us!Having said this, it is also crucial to develop your non-verbal communication skills. For example, I encountered a deaf patient on a stroke ward once who I had to take a history from. She was able to lip read well but I found it easier to have a written conversation with her as this put both of us in the same position. Of course, this took much longer than a spoken conversation but that’s just another thing you learn as a medical student: patience is key!”
She exercises a similar patience when encountering non-English speakers. She told us about how she sometimes encounters Hindi/Gujarati/Punjabi speaking patients, and since she speaks Hindi herself, would try to communicate with them in their own language. But this is not as easy as you’d think! She says “I found that it is harder asking medical questions in Hindi than it is to just have a simple chat. I used aids around the room such as posters of various conditions to help aid these consultations. This has taught me to use my surroundings to my advantage and has made me realise I need to practice medical terms in Hindi!”
On her Instagram, she also speaks very openly about mental health. With the high stress levels of a medical degree and the added challenges brought about by this unprecedented time, it is no surprise that medical students often struggle with their mental health. We are moved to see people like @itsamedicslife using her platform to remove the stigma around it. During our interview she explained her own coping mechanisms, which serve as helpful suggestions to anyone else who might be struggling: “I find mindfulness and meditation extremely useful and a way that this can be achieved in a hospital setting is to really focus on the task at hand. For example, try to be fully present when taking a history or doing a clinical skill and try not to think about the people watching you doing this task. This way, not only will you perform better because you’re less conscious of what people think of you, but you’re being mindful which can have a very positive effect on your mental health.” She also makes sure to bring up the importance of food: “If I am hungry, I can feel tasks that would usually be easy weighing me down so I ensure that I carry a small snack in my pocket for when I’m walking between wards. When you get home from placement, try to do nothing medicine-related for at least the first half an hour. Go and chat to your housemates or watch Netflix or read or do yoga, just have some you time to unwind before starting notes or revision.”
Thank you to @itsamedicslife for her time, and for all these helpful and optimistic insights. It really was a pleasure to speak to her.