I was talking to my mentee the other week, and it gave me a surprisingly different perspective on the pandemic. He’s a third year medical student, whose classes are suspended for the rest of the academic year. He’s been enjoying hikes each day, a refreshing change from some recent blistering rotations and lack of physical activity. But he’s also been fretting about his plans that the coronavirus cancelled. As a rising fourth year, he was looking forward to strategic away rotations, banking on them to help him get into a competitive residency. Now that away rotations are cancelled, he’s worried it’ll affect his applications. I reigned in my surprise and reassured him. This conversation inspired me to share some things I think you should NOT have to worry about in a pandemic.
The pandemic canceled your away rotations. It’s a bummer, but no one in their right mind could penalize you for that. Plans will change, or go out the window entirely during these months, in order to save lives. As a student or trainee, it might be hard to maintain this perspective, when you feel like your future hangs in the balance. But trust me, decision-makers will understand that you didn’t travel for an away rotation in a pandemic. If they choose to take all internal candidates over your fabulous self, you don’t want to go to that program anyway. This doesn’t signal an end or a derailment of your career- it’s just a temporary hold.
You’ve heard some of your classmates are out volunteering for the Red Cross? Or working at a soup kitchen? If you’re the type who can’t sit still, this could be a therapeutic option for you. But if you’re scared and overwhelmed like the rest of us, it’s OK to take care of yourself and just stay home. Really.
You could even take a break from your regular programming to enroll in this free online course on The Science of Well-Being at Yale! I’m really liking it so far. It’s a way to work on yourself and your mindset if you really feel you should be doing more right now.
Are you upset about people on spring break in Florida, ignoring social-distancing mandates? Or are you envious of your friend Tanya’s baking projects? Staying connected to others through social media can be a helpful antidote to loneliness, but at a certain point, it’s time to tune out.
Let me offer a helpful hint if you just lost an hour scrolling on your phone. Take this time to reflect on your own personal objectives, rather than what others are doing. Build some structure into your day, so you can accomplish the things that you want to do. Revisit why you’ve pursued medicine, to refresh your motivation and perspective. Now’s a great time to work through any challenges you’ve faced, when you were too busy to reflect on them.
Did your roommate give you a terrible haircut? Or are you displaying gray hairs openly for the first time? Personally, I’ve shifted my emphasis from aesthetics to cleanliness. At work, my hair’s tucked away, flattened under a cap, and crimped by personal protective equipment. Goodbye, pretty curls. When I’m home, my hair is a freshly-shampooed mop, or pinned off my face. I have a new appreciation for my health each day, and my grooming routine centers around maintaining it.
When interviews arrive, if you’re asked to explain what you did during the pandemic, reasonable answers include self-isolation, study, and reconnecting with family. This is not a time to be a stand-out superstar, but a time to do your part to flatten the curve and support your community in whatever way you can, even if that means staying home.
Being a student or trainee is stressful. And the collective trauma inherent to Covid-19 is real, so your primary objective is to care for yourself and your mental health. Take this time to peek inside your heart, and patch the holes you didn’t have time to repair before.
So go ahead, let go of these worries I listed. Watch TV for a few hours, play video games. Know that you deserve to decompress during this unimaginably stressful time. I won’t tell anyone, promise.
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.