More than Medical Students

by Marianne Gazet, year 5

We are all more than medical students- and it’s important to talk about it!

My name is Marianne Gazet, I’m currently a fifth year medical student- but I’m also more than that! To mention a few things, I speak multiple languages, I’m interested in fashion and I was also an avid swimmer – at least before the pools closed for lockdown. Oh, and I have an Instagram account @mariannedoesmedicine where I am the host of a live series called (you guessed it) More Than Medical Students. Is it important to talk about what we are outside of medical school? Definitely! 

Life is all about balance.

Firstly, it’s important to realise that in medical school and even as a doctor you need to have some balance in your life. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in medical school, and to feel like you’re drowning in stress and studying. I think we all need an outlet, something to relax, to let our creativity flow or simply clear our minds after a long day. You don’t need to stop all your hobbies to do well at medical school! Actually,  taking some breaks to do an activity you enjoy will allow your mind to rest and be more productive for another study session the next day. And I would go further than that: I think we all need something to exist outside of medical school. We all need something that gives us excitement and passion outside of medicine – even if you are super passionate about medicine, you can have several passions! For sure there will be times of the year when your focus shifts, for example during the exam period you might reduce your involvement in your side projects, but equally in summer you can devote way more of your time to your hobbies and creative outlets. The problem if you do not have this balance is that you are at increased risk of burnout. That is because you overwork yourself or over-focus yourself on work, meaning the passion that you have about medicine may sadly be reduced and you may lose your drive.   

Why variety is important

Having doctors with varied backgrounds and interests is vital. Healthcare, by nature, relies upon human contact and communication, so it is especially valuable to have a diverse workforce with diverse interests. Essentially, it wouldn’t be beneficial to have an army of robot-like doctors with identical thinking patterns, actions and reactions, even if they had memorised all the textbooks. Diversity can lead to better patient understanding, increase patient rapport etc. Variety is not only important in the clinical teams but also in the management teams: with diverse interests and ways of thinking come more ideas and perspectives for problem solving, and more chances of bringing diverse solutions to the table.

Furthermore, many doctors with varied interests and side projects will do some branching out from their clinical work in education, research, medtech, management, journalism… And these roles are really needed! We don’t only need doctors in hospitals, we need them in all those domains that cross over with healthcare. A portfolio career is an attractive pathway for those types of doctors, but even without dedicating a career to your non-medical interests, these “portfolio” elements can contribute huge benefits to traditional training and career paths in medicine. 

We are only human

Finally, it is vital to remember we are only human. Sometimes we can unconsciously ascribe superhuman qualities to doctors, expecting them to be exceedingly intelligent, working under a lot of stress but staying calm and resilient, while showing their patients abundant compassion. Doctors have been called superheroes, and many of us enter medical school with ambitious dreams of saving lives (and the world). This has been demonstrated recently by the response to the global pandemic. NHS workers have been celebrated as “heroes”, and doctors have received enormous praise for their efforts worldwide. Even though doctors and the work they do is amazing and deserving of high praise, we have to remember that the people behind the scrubs and stethoscopes are human too! They have emotions: they struggle; they feel stressed, and they sometimes feel deep sadness, frustration or despair with their patients. Labelling healthcare professionals as heroes could be harmful if it means we forget about their humanity. After all, they are also sons and daughters, siblings, partners, parents and friends. Their work isn’t their whole life; they shouldn’t have to sacrifice family life and social life for the sake of their job, no matter how amazing the job is! A lot has been done recently to improve work-life balance in training and for doctors, and many are able to keep up hobbies and family life, work LTFT (less than full time) and take time out if they need to. And this is the same for medical students: wanting to “have a life” outside of medical school doesn’t mean you’re not enthusiastic or passionate about medicine, and it doesn’t mean you won’t become a brilliant and caring doctor – you will! Allowing medical students to have space for their projects, hobbies, friends and family is vital, because being a medical student is not all that defines us.

Be sure to follow Marianne on Instagram @mariannedoesmedicine to keep up with her live series, More Than Medical Students, and to see more of her advice and inspirational insights.

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