I wanted to write a different post. I tried to write about how the pace of my medical education has changed dramatically since winter vacation. I tried to write a how to survive anatomy guide. I tried to write an upbeat post about Med Prom. I wanted to write a different post but it felt dishonest. Those posts (disorganized drafts on my desktop) seem better fit for another time.
I look back at my expectations for medical school and I cannot help but laugh. The disparity between my expectations and my reality knows no bounds. I had a lot of fanciful ideas prior to matriculation. I imagined that I would attend every lecture; I imagined that I would study in coffee shops; I imagined that I would have more time to engage with the city in which I now live; I imagined that my cohort would be filled with the best people I had ever met. That expectation — that my cohort would be an inseparable collection of 186 individuals — is the one that I talk about most often with my friends at other medical schools. We have been disappointed by the culture inherent to our respective medical schools. It is probably not appropriate for me to share their personal reflections in this post, but I will share my expectations and in what way reality has fallen short of these expectations.
To preface: my cohort is amazing — I mean that. The other 185 members of my cohort are compassionate and inherently good individuals. It’s a privilege to study with / beside them. Although I truly think that my cohort is amazing, I think it is difficult to forge authentic relationships within the class. Someone once told me that if I leave medical school with 1-2 (new) close friends, I am lucky. At that time, I found that hard to believe. I assumed that he had a less social or less friendly cohort. I assumed that he was socially incompetent. I assumed that he had not tried to make friends within his class. My experience in medical school thus far and those of my friends at other institutions gives credence to his words.
Loneliness in medical school is pervasive but I think we (medical students) are afraid to admit that we are not perfect. So I will admit: I feel lonely. I have felt ‘truly’ lonely once before: I had just moved to New Orleans and I knew zero individuals in the city. Understandably, I felt extremely isolated and withdrawn. What is unique to my current state of loneliness is that I am surrounded by like-minded individuals. Wonderful individuals. We might as well be ships in the night. I attend social events. I engage in small talk. I ‘know’ almost. every. single. person. in. my. class (≥ 95%). Yet, it is difficult (in my opinion) to find members of the class who can provide emotional support. To be more frank: I think it’s hard to find friends who really care but incredibly easy to amass social friends. It’s disheartening. If I had an emergency and I had to call someone in my cohort to help me, I can think of less than five individuals who would be there for me. And to be fair, there are less than five individuals to whom I would lend my un-begruging assistance.
I have been thinking a lot about this and I’m unsure of the origin of this social dynamic. I don’t think it is because we are a population of competitive human beings. After all, Princeton was a competitive institution. I don’t know if it is because we all share a very similar interest — I spent most of my time with premedical students at Princeton and those were extremely rewarding friendships. Are we too selfish to invest in more legitimate relationships? Are we too stressed? I wonder if we feel a need to perform because we are in professional school. I wonder if that label — professional — pressures us to treat our classmates as colleagues rather than prospective friends. I wonder what steps would have to be made to change (what I will assume is) the general medical school culture. What I do know: the status quo is not working.