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Caring for Yourself Before You Care for Others

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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.

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Kelsey Stefan

University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine - Class of 2023


Bio: My name is Kelsey Stefan and I am a third year medical student at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. I graduated from the University of Florida with my degree in psychology and I am from Tampa, FL. Some hobbies outside of my passion for wellness and medicine include sewing, rollerblading, and traveling. 

Sometimes it feels like medical school has made me an amplified version of myself, for better and for worse. My time management skills: amplified. My public speaking skills: amplified. My desire for achievement: amplified. My fear of failure: amplified. My feelings of inadequacy: amplified. My anxiety: amplified. Tendencies that used to be helpful were being brought out so much they were becoming harmful and hard to control.

I have always believed in wellness and I work hard to balance my life. My grandpa always repeated one piece of advice over and over: “the most important thing in life is balance.” That statement has resonated with me through the years. When I began medical school, I was extremely aware of the importance of continuing to do things that made me happy and made it a priority to do so. I worked out every day, continued my sewing hobby, saw my family, and held up a long-distance relationship. People marveled at how I was able to still do everything I loved and how happy I seemed. Halfway through my first year of medical school, I began to feel confused inside. I was doing everything people advised me to do to stay happy and healthy, yet none of it was actually making me feel good anymore. I still felt anxious all the time, lost interest in doing things I used to love and was guilty every moment I wasn’t doing something that directly related to bettering my studies. These are feelings I am sure most medical students relate to. It wasn’t soon after that I finally opened up to my own doctor about my struggles and was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder.

I realized that I had to change the methods that previously worked and find new ones. Medical school was a whole new ballgame and the strategies I had before were too weak to win out. It was easy to come to this realization; however, it was hard to figure out where to start. Things seemed so overwhelming. There are fifty thousand different ideas on the internet and not enough time in my day to try them all. Luckily, my university has an amazing wellness program, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to try new wellness strategies, even ones I would have never opened my mind to before. When I realized how much I was gaining from our wellness program, I reached out to our director and asked to become involved in building, planning, and researching the outcome it has on our students. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Doing this gave me the opportunity to help my classmates as well as learn new skills and insights to help myself. All the while I was also doing something that I felt could add to myself as a future healthcare professional. Instead of trying to run away from my anxiety and feelings of depression I ran towards them and got involved. This gave me a deeper understanding of the meaning behind certain wellness activities and allowed me to find an area of research that really interested me as well.

Through getting involved in the wellness program I was also able to play a role in running an event called Stomp the Stigma. This event was aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness amongst health students and was brought to life by an amazing team of medical students with a passion for mental illness. We had a wonderful group of students come together and share their struggles with mental illness and the strategies that helped them. The thought was to help foster connections amongst students, shine light on resources that people may find useful, and let students know they are not alone in their struggles. I had never felt such raw emotion and solidarity amongst my classmates. I would encourage every health program across the country to consider running a similar event of their own.

If I had any parting advice to anyone it would be this: try to be as open-minded as possible and realize that you are not a superhuman. You cannot care for others until you truly learn what it means to care for yourself.

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Disclaimer:

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.