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Graduating Out of My Self-Sacrifice

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With vaccinations still rolling out, social distancing and masks are unquestionable accessories to our caps and gowns. 

 

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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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Vanya Vojvodic

Keck School of Medicine of USC – MD Class of 2024 


Bio: Vanya Vojvodic is a first-year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from USC as a proud member of the Class of 2020.

She is passionate about mental health awareness, especially in the field of medicine, and currently serves as Co-President of Keck Peer Support.

In a few weeks, I will finish my first year of medical school. In just a few days, however, I will take part in my undergraduate graduation ceremony. Typically the order is reversed, but for the

Class of 2020, graduating a year later is a privilege. With vaccinations still rolling out, social distancing and masks are unquestionable accessories to our caps and gowns. Most of the people I wanted to share this milestone with will not be in attendance- my college friends have moved and my family is thousands of miles away in a different state. I have medical school finals coming up, deadlines looming, and am behind on lectures. Why should I even go?

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I originally decided to skip my graduation ceremony. I cited the mounting schoolwork and upcoming exams as infallible reasons to my disappointed family and friends. I was ready to forfeit my historical graduation to get an extra day of studying, even though I was starting to burn out. The major challenge of being in medical school is that there is always something to do. There are lectures to study, flashcards to review, research meetings to attend, extracurriculars to get involved with… the list is endless. The culture is to adhere to a 5 year plan (at least- maybe 10) and to pursue excellence in all endeavors, often at great personal expense.

During my first semester of medical school, I struggled with adjusting to the rigorous academic pace, and I barely made time to recharge. I often felt guilty for taking breaks- there was always something I could be studying or working on. Part of this mindset emanated from a feeling that if I didn’t give it my absolute all, then I wouldn’t “make it”. The reality is that sometimes you can pour everything you’ve got and it may still not work out… what then? You’re left with nothing.

Fortunately, mental health awareness and wellness have been incorporated as fundamental aspects of my medical education. Every few weeks, we have mandatory wellness lectures that explore unique topics related to our resilience and well-being. They do not contain testable material, so students can focus on introspection. Their mandatory nature also prevents us from prioritizing other things instead of our mental health during that time. Another impactful resource available is Keck Peer Support, where trained peer supporters help fellow medical students navigate the intricacies of mental health in medical school. My involvement in this program has united me with amazing wellness-oriented classmates and faculty. Every month, we host an anonymous check-up, where students of all years are invited to openly submit their thoughts and struggles. Peer supporters then share their perspectives and advice in response, and we publish the check-ups to build solidarity within the Keck community. I feel as though I am constantly a part of something meaningful with Keck Peer Support. Providing an outlet for the entire school community has been both humbling and healing. From the submissions of fellow first-year students contending with making friends in a socially-distanced environment, to fourth-year students worried about residency placements, it has been an honor to facilitate student connection through our shared adversity. Alumni have even contributed responses to our monthly check-ups- a true testament to the cohesiveness of our community. Promoting mental health on campus has been empowering for me to stop discounting my own.

So here’s my response to my own check-up submission above:

You both graduated from college and matriculated to medical school during a pandemic- no small feat. I hope you choose to celebrate this, even though it is under less favorable circumstances. As someone who is also used to prioritizing school, I want you to know that it is okay to give yourself permission to get behind every once in a while. Burning out is not a noble pursuit. Some self-sacrifice is inevitable with the extreme demands of medical school, but your entire life cannot be a sacrifice. Even if you are tireless with your dedication, nothing is guaranteed. As terrifying as that may be, it is also liberating. Trying your best is enough. Go walk for your graduation! Your grad present can then be coffee to keep studying.

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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.