Does It Really Only Get Worse?

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As many people reading this know, I am in my first year of medical school and there is one thing I have heard consistently from those in the year above me: “If you think it’s hard now, just wait until next year”. I was not surprised by those comments, having heard similar ones when applying: “I’ve you think pre-med is hard, just wait until med school”. Even in our first weeks here we had professors say “if you think this is hard, just wait until the next unit”.

But the point here is not specific to medical school. Rather, why do we do this at all? I watch similar conversations go on between PhD students and many others at different levels of academia. The gist seems to be: “if you think what you’re going through is hard, just wait until you see what I’ve gone through”.

And I understand the desire to warn at some level; it is important to understand what we are getting into. Medical school would have been much harder if I came in believing it would be as easy as high school; however, these conversations seem to go beyond giving simple advice and information. They feel more destructive than anything.
Take the article I read that sparked this post. A graduating medical student is opening up about his struggles with depression and anxiety during medical school. From my perspective, this pieces serves to open up conversation about this issue and to help normalize the discussion so that other students feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it. However, when reading through the comments (a bad choice, I know) I was struck by the number of comments (seemingly from physicians) stating something along the lines of “well if you thought med school was bad, just wait until…”

This was a piece written by someone opening up about their struggles with mental illness as a result of participating in a system that is known to be associated with increased burnout and mental illness and these commenters were implying that things were only going to get worse and if he couldn’t cope now then he wouldn’t be able to cope then.

This is seriously unhelpful and potentially dangerous. If I am feeling stressed and down about where I am now, then it is massively damaging to be told that it is only going to get worse. When someone is depressed we do not tell them (I hope) that life sucks and it’s never going to get better, and in many ways that is what I am seeing happen in academia – particularly with students. There is no benefit in this when someone is already in the system.

So I ask you, the next time someone who is somehow “below” you academically is talking about how they are struggling with how tough things are right now, take a moment to consider whether you consider there to be any useful outcomes to telling them that it only gets worse.


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