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Med 1: Expectations vs. reality in a COVID world


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I feel like this was supposed to be the greatest year of my life. Starting med school, a new chapter, going to make new friends and connections that should last a lifetime. Then COVID happened. I am usually someone who is very stoic and resilient, however I feel like this year has had an immense negative impact on my mental health (and it's only November). 

Pre-clerkship years are supposed to be the "fun years" in med school, before increasing responsibilities and decreasing free time happens in Med 3. I had such high expectations for med school, and everything being online/all the restrictions in place really foiled it all. Trust me, I am very grateful to be in the position I am in (I would never be ungrateful, as so many would love the opportunity to become a doctor)... however, I am conflicted as this year is really nothing like what I imagined it to be. My interactions with classmates are relatively superficial and mostly based around schoolwork. What's worse, I feel like there are several cliques which have formed around me and I'm part of none of them... if next year even is in-person, it feels like it will be impossible to make meaningful connections at that point. The one word I would use to describe how I'm feeling is "isolated". 

Does anyone else feel the same? How has your med school experience been impacted by COVID?

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The way that you are feeling isn't uncommon in medical school.  COVID sucks and I'm sorry to hear the effect it has had on your experience.  The unfortunately reality is that this pandemic is really adversely effecting the social lives of young people and pre-clerkship is a valuable time for social connections.  However, it's not going to be your only chance for it.  Even if you feel that you're not that close with people right now, there's clerkship, 4th year and residency where you will have a chance to connect with like-minded people.  I would say that residency is an even better bonding opportunity than medical school as the group is smaller and focused on a very similar common goal. Reflecting back on medical school I can say that I wasn't in any cliques either, I was just on a superficial friendly basis with most people and a bit deeper with a few people.  Now that I am a fully trained physician I occasionally come across people from medical school, but it's not very common.  For me my relationship with my partner became the primary relationship of importance throughout medical school and then in residency/now it became family/kids. Your time in medical school will pass, and it generally feels like it flew by.  A lot of it is a means towards and end (trained physician).  Not all of it will be awesome, but some of it will be pretty good.  I would encourage you to try to remind yourself of longer-term goals when you feel disheartened by the short-term. 

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8 minutes ago, dooogs said:

Have you tried reaching out to individual classmates? 

I have tried, and I do text some people... but it all feels very superficial. Even when interacting with small in-person sessions, it feels like we are just putting in the time to learn and that's it. Very few opportunities to get to know others.

7 minutes ago, BigM said:

The way that you are feeling isn't uncommon in medical school.  COVID sucks and I'm sorry to hear the effect it has had on your experience.  The unfortunately reality is that this pandemic is really adversely effecting the social lives of young people and pre-clerkship is a valuable time for social connections.  However, it's not going to be your only chance for it.  Even if you feel that you're not that close with people right now, there's clerkship, 4th year and residency where you will have a chance to connect with like-minded people.  I would say that residency is an even better bonding opportunity than medical school as the group is smaller and focused on a very similar common goal. Reflecting back on medical school I can say that I wasn't in any cliques either, I was just on a superficial friendly basis with most people and a bit deeper with a few people.  Now that I am a fully trained physician I occasionally come across people from medical school, but it's not very common.  For me my relationship with my partner became the primary relationship of importance throughout medical school and then in residency/now it became family/kids. Your time in medical school will pass, and it generally feels like it flew by.  A lot of it is a means towards and end (trained physician).  Not all of it will be awesome, but some of it will be pretty good.  I would encourage you to try to remind yourself of longer-term goals when you feel disheartened by the short-term. 

Thank you for your reply... it means a lot to hear those words. That's how I would describe it currently as well, I am on a superficial friendly basis with many. I never expected to become best friends with everyone... it is just so unfortunate since I feel that sitting in class everyday would have been a great way to forge new friendships. What is sort of saddening for me is I feel I sacrificed being a socialite during undergrad for the long-term goal of getting into med school.. and ironically once I got in, it happens to be the worst year to be in med school! Oh well. I will definitely heed your advice and try to think of the long-term goals, I did it before and I don't mind doing it again I suppose. Also, I believe you that it will get better in residency.

Thanks again for taking the time, I appreciate it.

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You definitely aren't alone in feeling this way. Even outside of a COVID environment, I don't think everyone gets into cliques and becomes best friends with their med school classmates.

I moved provinces for my first degree before med and also felt extremely isolated and lonely. It definitely got better over time as I found friends out of my degree.

I'm not fond of the narrative that you have to make the friends of your life during med school, because this simply won't be true for everyone. I struggled a lot with it at the beginning of this semester but I've found that it's felt so much more liberating to 1) let go of the expectation that I have to become best friends with people in medicine 2) connect with friends I already genuinely care about and vibe with. 

Also, as much as I do enjoy med school material, it gets stressful being surrounded by people who are just all about med. I would say that most of my closest friends aren't in healthcare at all and I find this refreshing for my own mental health to not be thinking about this stuff 24/7.

Friendships can't be coerced at the end of the day and you'll find your people when you don't expect it. :)

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1 hour ago, willowandpines said:

You definitely aren't alone in feeling this way. Even outside of a COVID environment, I don't think everyone gets into cliques and becomes best friends with their med school classmates.

I moved provinces for my first degree before med and also felt extremely isolated and lonely. It definitely got better over time as I found friends out of my degree.

I'm not fond of the narrative that you have to make the friends of your life during med school, because this simply won't be true for everyone. I struggled a lot with it at the beginning of this semester but I've found that it's felt so much more liberating to 1) let go of the expectation that I have to become best friends with people in medicine 2) connect with friends I already genuinely care about and vibe with. 

Also, as much as I do enjoy med school material, it gets stressful being surrounded by people who are just all about med. I would say that most of my closest friends aren't in healthcare at all and I find this refreshing for my own mental health to not be thinking about this stuff 24/7.

Friendships can't be coerced at the end of the day and you'll find your people when you don't expect it. :)

Hey, thanks for taking the time to share. I definitely bought into that narrative as a pre-med unfortunately, and so my expectations were far too high. Those are all very good points. I'll try to branch out and meet others that share similar interests. I also won't pressure myself especially in this COVID environment... here's to hoping it's better in residency or maybe even in the coming years. Anyways, thanks again for sharing.

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Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I am also feeling the exact same way- it seems like cliques have formed and many people know each other, yet I feel quite left out of all of this. However, like many have said, I'm trying to let go of these feelings and focus on being thankful for the relationships I do have (my housemates, my partner, etc.). It's also important to realize that some of this may be an illusion- it may "seem" like cliques have formed (and probably some have), but we don't really know what actually goes on with these people and I think there are more people feeling this way that we realize.

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Hey!

I actually had a post regarding this a few weeks ago because I was also feeling really down in the dumps due to the same reason. After the insight I gained from the responses I spent a lot more time with my family and reached out to my non-med friends. I also started a gratitude journal that has been helping me greatly.  Our upper years were kind enough to organize some online gaming nights for us which was a great place to get some of that social connection. I know it is getting close to exam time so most people might not want to spend time playing video games but I am sure there will be a couple people interested to play. Alternatively, clinical skills practice groups have been great for for building rapport too.

But feel free to PM anytime you feel this way because it really sucks and it shouldn't take away from your love for medicine!

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When I went to medical school (pre-COVID obviously) I think I had the same expectation that I would immediately feel "part of the group" and that didn't happen for me either.  Some people it happens easily for, and some it's harder.  I am only in touch with a very small number of people from medical school - maybe about 3 people - and all of them were people I became close to in the later years.

I think it can actually get easier once you start to learn what other people are interested in the same things you are clinically, and when you're doing more in small groups, like your clerkship rotation track etc.  So it's not impossible to make new connections later in medical school.

Not to underestimate that COVID has thrown a wrench into things - it absolutely has - and, I don't think you've missed your chance.

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19 hours ago, Psych said:

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I am also feeling the exact same way- it seems like cliques have formed and many people know each other, yet I feel quite left out of all of this. However, like many have said, I'm trying to let go of these feelings and focus on being thankful for the relationships I do have (my housemates, my partner, etc.). It's also important to realize that some of this may be an illusion- it may "seem" like cliques have formed (and probably some have), but we don't really know what actually goes on with these people and I think there are more people feeling this way that we realize.

Hey, thanks for commenting. I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone, and I'm assuming many others probably feel the same way like you mention. I'll try to follow that too, and focus on the relationships I have and am thankful for. You make a fair point, I am unsure if all these cliques have really formed. But it definitely is harder for some compared to others to feel part of the in-group.

16 hours ago, sadllama said:

Hey!

I actually had a post regarding this a few weeks ago because I was also feeling really down in the dumps due to the same reason. After the insight I gained from the responses I spent a lot more time with my family and reached out to my non-med friends. I also started a gratitude journal that has been helping me greatly.  Our upper years were kind enough to organize some online gaming nights for us which was a great place to get some of that social connection. I know it is getting close to exam time so most people might not want to spend time playing video games but I am sure there will be a couple people interested to play. Alternatively, clinical skills practice groups have been great for for building rapport too.

But feel free to PM anytime you feel this way because it really sucks and it shouldn't take away from your love for medicine!

Hello, thanks for sharing! As I mentioned to the other user above, I'm glad to hear that I am not alone. As you and many others have emphasized, I'll try reaching out to family and non-med friends more. Thanks for all the input, perhaps a gaming night wouldn't be a bad idea. Medicine has been amazing so far, I'll try to not let any of this take away from it. Thanks again!

13 hours ago, ellorie said:

When I went to medical school (pre-COVID obviously) I think I had the same expectation that I would immediately feel "part of the group" and that didn't happen for me either.  Some people it happens easily for, and some it's harder.  I am only in touch with a very small number of people from medical school - maybe about 3 people - and all of them were people I became close to in the later years.

I think it can actually get easier once you start to learn what other people are interested in the same things you are clinically, and when you're doing more in small groups, like your clerkship rotation track etc.  So it's not impossible to make new connections later in medical school.

Not to underestimate that COVID has thrown a wrench into things - it absolutely has - and, I don't think you've missed your chance.

Hi, thank you for sharing. You're more than right about how it happens so easily for some. I feel like my experience will mirror yours, which I'd love if it means making genuine connections with a small number of people. I'll keep that in mind (re: making new connections later in med)... right now no one has a clear idea of what they want to do and so I think you're right about how it will be easier in an interest group for example. Thanks again, I'm happy there's still a chance to make connections.

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  • 5 weeks later...

me too. 100%. all the social activities and connections that i would have formed and would have made the difficult times bearable are not available. i am so burnt out, lonely, and isolated. i feel like im still grieving the loss of what could've been, what was supposed to be. starting med school + covid has shot my mental health right into the shitter

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Maybe some upper year med students can chime in here but I have been sort of feeling this way too. My main question really is that pre-covid did Med students tend to go out/party/let-loose a little bit (when the course load was manageable here and there of course)? Everyone I have sort-of gotten to know is SUPER friendly and kind but everyone seems very professional/collegial and less like maybe peers or friends which is certainly expected as it is a professional school and school commitments should be taken professionally of course but I don't really know if this is a result of the fact that we simply just don't have the opportunity to open up to one another and bond or if it is just because this is how medical school is. Does anyone else feel this way / does that make sense? I completely understand if this is just the way it is but I guess I was also hoping to meet some people that could become real friends and less like work friends.

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