At the start of my journey to medical school, I felt like I had the whole world ahead of me – I had overcome all the difficult stages to finally earn my place in medical school. I was scared and excited, but I had a plan. Get in, complete those five years of university, two years of foundation training and then the world would literally be my oyster. I knew it would be difficult but it all felt so straightforward. So many people had done it before me, so of course I could do it too. Right?
I was wrong.
Everyone always tell you that medical school isn’t easy, no matter who you are, and they definitely do not lie. Some days the workload and demands of the course can seem overwhelming, but we as students always find a way to push through using the drive and motivation that got us here in the first place. But one day, I just couldn’t. Something didn’t feel right. There was something about the way I was feeling that felt different. They say to never forget why you chose to pursue medicine as a career, but for some reason, I could no longer remember. And this scared me. My drive vanished. My academics suffered. I no longer knew why I was doing what I was doing, and this made it even harder to keep going. Despite this, I kept it to myself. As medical students (and doctors), we often feel that we are not allowed to have problems because we are supposed to be treating the problems of others. I could relate to this way of thinking – how was I meant to support others in their difficulties if I could not even keep myself together. So I hid how I felt and watched what I felt was my life’s work disintegrate around me.
One day, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was the beginning of my second term in my third year and I had had enough. I remember sitting on a bench outside the hospital, crying my eyes out while making difficult phone call to my university’s Wellbeing services that I had never wanted to make. This started me on a long path of appointments, difficult decision making and self-discovery. But I had asked for help, which is often the hardest part of the whole process. The feelings of loneliness and failure were no longer as frequently isolating.
Despite all my struggles, a key lesson I have learned is to be able to recognise when something is not right. Burnout in students is so real and can have serious consequences if not spotted. Remember this – just because you want to help people does not mean you do not deserve to also receive help. You know yourself best, and it is not a sign of weakness to find things difficult. My journey in medicine has been so much more complex than I could share and has not followed the plan I made in the beginning. I am still coming to terms with the fact that things are so different. I am nowhere 100% back to my usual self, but I am making moves to get there. So my take home message is, be kind to yourself, get to know yourself and please try and recognise when things do not feel right. You deserve the life you have envisioned for yourself. While the road is not always easy, there will always be people along the way to make it a little easier. You just have to find them.
Written by Ewaola Apooyin