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Feeling Inadequate In Medical School | Medical Student Advice

When you get into medical school, it’s a pretty euphoric feeling. Years of hard work, volunteering and anxiety finally pay off. You’ve successfully out-competed thousands of people to get to where you are. Congratulations, you should feel confident and proud of your achievements. I remember that phone call like it was yesterday. My heart started racing when I saw the name of my medical school on the caller ID. As soon as they said “we have some good news”, I couldn’t even hear the rest. I was so excited to tell my parents and make them proud. Thank them for all their sacrifices and help in getting me to this point. That feeling of euphoria lasted for about 2-3 days, then it was back to reality. 

And reality meant realizing that I was officially in this marathon called medicine. After the boring logistical stuff was taken care of, it was time to move away from home for the first time and start this journey in the flesh. It all begins with orientation week where you meet your classmates and a few of the 2nd years that help organize the week and get you settled in. In other words, this is the most superficial, and fake time in medical school as everyone is trying to come off as their “Medical Student” self rather than who they really are. Nonetheless, you survive this week and maybe even find a few friends. 

Something else happens during this week and throughout medical school however. You begin to realize that you’re not that big of a deal. Medical school is notorious for attracting big egos and hero personalities. That’s not to say everybody is like that, but everyone here does have at least a little type-A to them. So this realization that you are no longer the “best of the best” can hit hard. Med school is basically a bottleneck that puts all the smart, go-getters from college in one environment. And within this environment, you being a medical student isn’t a big deal at all, since everyone already accomplished that feat. 

So now, it becomes about who’s the best within the best? You begin comparing yourself to other people and start caring about things that you never even considered before. “Wow, that person is so much more athletic than me. That girl is so much prettier than me. That guy is great at guitar. She’s so well put together and has a great boyfriend.” All of these comparisons start to plague you and make you feel like you’re not enough. Did you just get lucky to be here? Are these people just better than you? Will you ever be able to keep up?

As you get deeper into school, you also realize another fact. Your entire class might be the best of the best when it comes to college. But in the grand scheme of medicine, you are at the very bottom of the totem-pole once again. You’re in the pre-med role again, only now it is pre-residency. Then it’ll be pre-attending. Then it’ll be pre-chief, pre-retirement etc. All of this is to say that you need to get ahead of this problem of comparison before it gets out of control and your whole life passes you by. 

I’m not going to sit hear and idealistically tell you to never compare yourself to others like some woo-woo self-help shit. Comparison and measuring up is a natural part of being a person. Focusing on our own negatives and on others’ positives is too. This is why we feel like shit about ourselves. We forget to give credit to ourselves for our positives traits and achievements but are quick to give praise (albeit silently) to others. We ignore their problems and negative aspects to further put ourselves in a hole.

How To Deal With It

1) Focus on yourself and your goals. You were great at doing this in college, which is what got you here. Focus on what kind of doctor you want to become and do everything you can to pursue that. 

2) Take care of yourself. No one’s going to do it for you. Not even the school’s mandatory wellness sessions (sigh). The reality is this is the most time you will ever have the rest of your life. Find physical activity you enjoy, eat healthy and prioritize yourself.

3) Use others as inspiration. Instead of getting envious and feeling bad about yourself, use it to your advantage. If someone is better than you at something, ask them how they do it and learn. Leave your ego out of it. If someone has so much time to play guitar, figure out how to be more efficient with your time to do something you care about.

4) Care about things you care about. If you were never an athlete, don’t let your competitive spirit take over and try to become one now. For sure, have fun and do whatever you want with your free time but be smart about it. Put your free time into things that actually make you happy, not what would “level the field” with others. 

5) Time to accept reality. The nice thing about being smart and accomplished in college, is that it sort of keeps you shielded from the real world. Once you move through higher education though, you have to accept the fact that there are simply people who will be better than you at certain things. In the real world, there are lots of smart, high achieving people.This is a hard pill to swallow for anyone but especially the type-A, high achievers. Be proud of your accomplishments and put your best foot forward, not to out-do others but because its who you are.

Till next time, cheers. 

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