Wednesday, September 9, 2015

To the First Years

Each August a fresh wave of excited and anxious medical and podiatry students move into our area. 

As I was playing with my daughter at a splash pad, a new student's wife asked me if I had any advice to the incoming medical student families.

At the time I was caught off guard and probably laughed my way through a silly response, but when I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about the question. In fact, in the days since that playgroup I have had many thoughts swirl through my mind.

To the medical student and family:

Congrats! You have made it into medical school. You. Are. Here. In the first few weeks you will be pushed, stretched, and stressed and wondering if this truly is what you want to do.

The answer is yes. And the solution is hang in there.

You thought you were great at studying and time managing in your undergrad, but medical school is going to teach you a whole new way to do things.

You thought going to class would be simple-but sometimes the teachers have thick accents. Then mix that with Latin medical terms and you will feel like you are in a different country.

You thought being a doctor would be great pay. If you are in it for the money--go somewhere else. 

Your new cologne will be formaldehyde-and your house will smell like it too. You will have to set yourself a "bedtime" because there is always more to do and study than can be done in one day. 

As a student adjusts to the time and effort put in to this part of one’s education, the spouse will sit on the side lines and wonder how they can help-because they truly want to help and make themselves useful. She'll apply to jobs all over, she'll clean the house 3 times in one hour, and she'll watch a lot of TV while glancing anxiously at her phone for a text saying “I’m on my way home”

This, my people, is my advice for surviving medical school:

1. Make time for God. This is and should be number one.  If you aren’t a religious person then now is the time to start. 

I watched as many students would go the opposite route and become “too busy” for church and God. The person they are really hurting is themselves. 

Who better to help you know and remember what you are learning then the all-knowing teacher?

I heard people say many times that they would have time for religion after medical school. There is never a time that you need religion more! If it’s medical school now, it’ll be intern year later, then the start of the a new career, etc.

There is never enough “time” for anything. Religion is not something you do if you have the time, it’s what we have been given time to do.

2. Family matters. And I mean it. 

Make time for your family and make sure they know when that time is. Whether that is coming home for lunch for a quick 45 minutes just to kiss your wife, scarf a sandwich and wrestle the baby. It’s worth it. 

If that means that you are done studying every night by 9 pm and spend an hour before bedtime on a quick walk with the spouse or snuggling on the couch snacking on buttered popcorn. Make it matter.

3. No study Sundays. Say what? You read that right. No studying on Sundays. 

This is something we started from week one of medical school. Was it hard to do? Yes. Was it worth it? Heck to the yes. 

This piece of advice helped to combine #1 and #2. By not studying Sundays it meant that Sunday was open for worship and it was also open for family time. Brian knew that no matter what was going on in school-even if he had a test Monday morning- he would have to be completely ready by Saturday night or get up early Monday and review. 

I have felt the blessings pour upon us from this seemingly simple rule. If I didn’t see Brian all week I knew that I had Sunday to look forward to-to go on a walk together and get my alone time in. We never went to church alone, always together as a family.

4. Manage your time. This is huge. It's about prioritizing what is most important. You can still live your life and do things that are important to you.

Say you study 6 hours at a time. How much of that time is actually devoted to study? Do you take a break every so often? What do you do in that break? Did you browse Facebook? Fantasyland? Buzzfeed? How much time did you waste on those?

If you have set apart time to study make sure that, that is exactly what you are doing-studying. 

And when you take a break-because we all know it's needed every so often. Put a limit on it, 10 or 15 minutes. We watched too many students get on Facebook or Buzzfeed for a break and next thing they knew 30 minutes had passed, then 45.. and so forth. 

You will have time for the things you love if you manage your time well.

5. Take turns with your spouse planning date nights. Take a 15 minute break from studying and plan a date night with your spouse. Rekindle the fire in your relationship. 

We often would joke that Medical School was the other woman in our relationship. Don’t let her get all the attention. Make sure the right woman is getting the right attention.

6. Your job is to worry about what YOU need to do to succeed. Do NOT worry about what everyone else is doing. 

I repeat: Do. Not. Worry. About. Anyone. But. YOU! 

Each student is smart. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. But you are too. Remember that you are part of this same elite group of medical students and you deserve to be here as much as the others.

Comparing will steal you of the joy you will have in your personal successes. Do the best you can do. It will be enough.

To the Spouse:

1. Encourage, encourage and encourage some more. Even when you don’t want to.

2. Keep yourself busy. Before having a baby, I worked 7 am to 7 pm some days just to stay busy like the hubby.

Join a book club or learn a new skill. This keeps you busy and learning. 

Sometimes Brian would study at home and I would drag a pillow to wherever he was studying and camp out on the ground with a good book. 

At least we were close in proximity. It made it easier.

3. Make dinner-even if he doesn’t show up-left overs make great lunches.

4. Get yourself ready for the day. Especially on the weekends when the hubby is studying. You feel better when you feel clean and ready.

5. Find a support group and stick together. Meet other medical student’s spouses, church friends, or neighbors and get together-often!

It's great to have family at home cheering you on from the sidelines and praying for you, but life and medical school get ten times better when there are friends nearby to help and rely on. 

The best way to have friends is to be a friend right? That means getting out of the comfort zone and inviting people over for dinner or games every once in a while. 

In the beginning, we rarely had a Sunday where we weren't feeding some new couple or family.

The first year of medical school the wives of the students would get together the night before the test when the husbands were all studying and we'd each bring a pot luck item to share. Then we'd pack up the food and take it to the husbands so they'd have some nutritious and delicious goodness to fill their stomachs while they filled also their brains.

6. Don’t wait around. If you want to do something, do it. 

This one was my hardest. Out of everyone that I want to spend time with, I want to do everything with Brian. I want to have the memories of doing something with him. 

In the beginning I wouldn’t go to the museums and events if Brian couldn’t make it. But then… it meant that we didn’t do anything because Brian could never really make it. After a while it made me become a hermit and that just wasn’t working either. 

Not waiting around means that even though you want to go to ice skating with your hubby or pick apples together, sometimes you just have to go by yourself and understand that they can’t make it.

It means packing up the baby and leaving to visit family-alone because there is no "vacation days" from medical school. You still have to live your life while they are living theirs.

Medical school is sacrifice.

And being married to a medical student means even more sacrifice.

It means waiting. It tests your patience, when you are waiting in bed at 11 pm just to hear the car door shut outside and know that he is home.. finally. It means that some birthdays go without gifts because food is more important. It means some anniversaries are celebrated months later because it fell on test day. It means learning to live on loans and pushing away pride to get government help and not buying that shirt even though it'd look cute, and it also means a lot of time alone.

It means getting over yourself and your loneliness and getting out to do things. You will make many sacrifices in your years of medical school-not only monetarily, but emotionally as well. 

You will see many of your high school and undergrad friends living it up as you are peering at them from behind a large and boring medical book. 

You will miss events, funerals, and family vacations that are really important to you and watch Instagram and Facebook for the updates from family on what you are missing.

It will be harder and it will be easier than you think. At times you'll breeze through it and at other times you will be brought to your knees. 

But it's worth it. You can do this. Stay strong.

] Anna


  1. Anna, thanks for sharing. It is really helpful and encouraging words. Chase isn't in medical school but I think a lot of the same things apply to Graduate school. It has been a struggle while he is starting and super stressful and etc. These are some great pointers. So thanks for sharing and I think you guys have an adorable family!

  2. Cute Post! We are just in the beginning of dental school. My biggest thing is COMMUNICATION. I can handle him staying out late to study if I know when to expect him home, it's the worst when the clock just keeps ticking away and I expected him to be home. If he says he won't be home til 9:00...great, I won't wait around. :)

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this post! My husband just started his first year of Physical Therapy school. It has been a crazy experience, but one I would never take back. I have felt everything you wrote in your post. Date night is definitely important.


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