Community: An Antidote to the Medical School Vacuum
The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Nathan Stacy is from Shawnee, Kansas and is a 2nd year medical student at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He is currently going through the grind of STEP 1 studying and is struggling to follow his own advice outlined below.
Do any of you feel a little bit…empty in medical school? If you don’t, you should read this anyway. But if you do, you are not alone. In fact, a majority of your fellow mid-20’s millennials feel the same way. Referring to this time as a ‘quarter life crisis’ is no longer tongue-in-cheek. While we are accomplishing tasks, deepening our medical knowledge, and strengthening our resumes, there are many questions that can bubble up under the surface of this busyness: Is all of this worth it? Will it provide me a fulfilling and sustaining life? What do I have outside of medicine?
I often feel a pull to ignore these questions, and to define myself fully by the 2-week test cycle. And it’s so easy to do that! No one questions you if you say “sorry, I can’t make it tonight, I’ve got to study.” The sub culture emphasizes that we’ll have limited time for anything outside of medical school. I remember our first week here, we had a seminar for parents and significant others to inform them of our hectic schedules. This subculture is set up to prioritize everything inside of medical school, above everything outside of medical school.
While I can appreciate the sentiment of being fully dedicated, I believe separating ourselves from family and friends to only concentrate on medical schools is unhealthy. We absolutely require community to have meaningful lives. We may find connections within our small groups and in our med school organizations, but we require a broader community outside of medical school. We need outward engagement that provides substance and connection. We need a rooted community.
What do I mean by “rooted community?” I mean investing in our local communities, increasing the amount of relationships that are tied to just one place, expanding our activities beyond just medical school. In practice, this can look like consistent, weekly volunteerism. It can be participating in a bowling league with your med school friends. It could be joining a church, if you are religiously inclined. Or something as simple as knocking on the door of your neighbor and saying hi. Anything to build bonds to both places and people.
It’s so easy to go through medical school without putting down any roots. In fact, I bet many would say its just good sense. Why invest in a local community when we won’t be here long? I will be moving to Wichita, KS (from Kansas City, KS) in approximately 8 months. I will live there for 2 years, at most, and move again during residency. I will spend 3-5 years in residency, and probably move again for my job. An additional move for a fellowship is also a possibility. We are all in similar positions – we are a very mobile group. However, a quote from Ben Sasse always pops in my head when I think about this: “Commit anyway, and act as if your body is going to end up in the place where you are. Eventually, you’ll be right.”
I’ll tell a little anecdote to end this post. I was having dinner with my parents on Sunday, and the discussion turned to the long-time pastor of our church, Nanette. Nanette told us about her experience of moving into a new neighborhood. Within a few weeks of moving she had met all of her neighbors, formed new friendships, and, with the authenticity and ever-readiness of a great pastor, invited them all to church. We all agreed that having a neighbor like Nanette would be awesome – someone who would go out of her way to have a conversation with you, someone who you could count on to help you if you need it, someone who truly wants to build community with you and knows you. The question left unasked was this: Why can’t we all be that neighbor? It’s challenging. It can be uncomfortable. But most everyone is happier and more fulfilled for it.
This emptiness is not preordained. It is not a requirement of medical school. It is the result of choices, conscious and unconscious, that we make every day. The more that we engage in activities that build our community, the more our worth will be determined outside of medical school.
University of Kansas School of Medicine