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Dealing With Uncertainty In Medical School | Medical Student Advice

Doctors are notorious for taking the “safe option”. The stable job, with good security and a path to a “happy” life. On paper, the process of becoming a physician is relatively simple. 

  1. College- GPA+MCAT+ECs
  2. Med School- Pass, High USMLE, Match Residency
  3. Residency- Pass, Find a Job

Obviously this process isn’t as easy as it is simple. There is uncertainty that only grows as the process goes on. As a college student, all you really care about is getting accepted to medical school and not much else matters. As a medical student, it’s more or less just about matching to residency. 

Again, on paper even this process seems simple. The thing people seem to forget is that as you are progressing through school as a person, you are also growing as an adult and person. Your personal life does not go on pause for you and this can be a source of frustration, anxiety and uncertainty. 

You can start having doubts and anxiety about the future and where the chips will fall. There end up being a lot more questions than answers. What residency will I match to? Where will I match? Where will I get a job? When will I meet my significant other? When will I have kids? In particularly difficult stretches, that question can even become, why am I doing this at all? These questions and a sense of uncertainty is normal and common among medical students and there are a few things you can do to address it. 

1) Understand That Uncertainty Is Life

We all like to have plans and grand visions of how our life will turn out. We expect to do X correctly so we can get to Y. The reality is that we are specks of dust on a round ball floating in space. When you put it in terms like that, you realize that we really don’t have as much control of our lives as we think. Things happen that you could never expect, events don’t turn out how you want them to. Nobody expected the whole situation we had in 2020 but it was a life-changing event for all in a good or a bad way. You have to learn to deal with this uncertainty without letting it take control of you. Constant worry and stress certainly won’t make the situation any better.

2) Know What You Want

It’s hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you are going. You got to medical school because you made it a goal of yours and did everything you could to accomplish it. So when it comes to the other aspects of your life you need to do the same. Regardless of what other people are doing, what do you want from your life? Whether it’s relationships, kids, what type of doctor you want to be, or where you want to live, it’s up to you to decide what you are looking for. You need to have a north star to aim at in order to justify the actions you are taking towards it. Sit down, by yourself, no distractions and ask yourself the tough questions. Write down what you want in every area of your life and promise yourself that everything you do, will be in line with these goals that you have set. 

3) Control What You Can

Now that you know what it is you want, focus on controlling what you can. You can’t control whether you will match to a certain program or not, but you can control your effort in school and on electives. Focus on the habits and actions you must take to achieve each of your goals rather than looking up to check for results every 2 days. If you want to lose weight, focus on eating healthier, not comparing your body to an instagram model. If you want a relationship, focus on putting yourself out there in environments where the type of person you want, would be. It’s funny, when you start doing the right things in each area of your life, you seem to get “luckier” and things start going your way. 

4) Find Mentors

This uncertainty and existential dread is a common theme for all human beings. Mentors are literally people that have been through what you are going through, and made it through successfully. Finding the right mentors can help you immensely in every area of life. If you are having trouble with school or deciding what you want from your career, seek upper year students or attending physicians that you can sit down with and talk to. Ask them about how they got through these feelings and determine for yourself if their career is what you would want. Just because someone has the career you want, doesn’t mean they have the life you want. It’s rare to find a mentor that has it all, but good for you if you can. Look for people that have the career you want, the type of relationship you want, the body you want, whatever it is. And if they are willing to give you time, ask questions and listen. By listening to mentors, you will avoid needless mistakes and make your path way less bumpy. 


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