Making Friends as a (Virtual) Incoming Medical Student

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It’s wonderful to be starting medical school, and important to celebrate such a remarkable achievement this summer.

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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.
Dina Zamil

Dina Zamil is an incoming first-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine. She graduated from the University of Houston in 2020. Dina is interested in addressing health disparities, and recently completed the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. In her free time, Dina enjoys baking, traveling, and hiking.

You’ve done it. You survived premedical coursework, the MCAT, applications, and interviews, and received an acceptance. It’s wonderful to be starting medical school, and important to celebrate such a remarkable achievement this summer.

Still, it’s normal to feel uneasy about what’s to come in light of the pandemic. COVID-19 is changing what medical education will look like this year. There will undoubtedly be more Zoom gatherings, streamed lectures, and social distancing. I can certainly say that for myself, the uncertainty of virtual (or at least, semi-virtual) medical school has made me anxious. 

The transition to medical school will not be the same as in the past. Class-building retreats are being canceled, and orientations are becoming virtual. I’ve been told by upperclassmen that such activities are traditionally how new students made friends. Having a good social circle and pals to rely on is so important for wellness during medical school, especially during these challenging times. Even under more normal circumstances, it can be nerve-wracking and takes some effort to make friends.

So, with the probable advent of more virtual school, how can we still make friends with our new classmates?

There are a couple things we can all do now, from the comfort of our homes, as we wait to start school, and possibly for the rest of the year:

  1. Class croup chat: If your class does not have a group chat already, it may be worthwhile to create one. A popular app for this is GroupMe. My class recently made a transition to Discord instead. On this app, we can use different channels for different topics, ranging from memes to matriculation tasks. Discord also allows you to hold voice and video calls. And don’t be afraid to send a message in the chat. If you have a funny meme, share it! It will probably be well-received. 
  2. Informal video sessions with classmates: This is something students in my own class have organized, and I’ve certainly enjoyed attending these sessions. You definitely do not have to wait for your school to take the initiative to bring you all together. It is helpful to have a class group chat to share the deets for these video chats. I recommend setting up a couple of video chat sessions at different days and times on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or any other program you like. Then, just drop the information into the class chat, and voila! You will be surprised how many people will show up for these chats, and how fun they can be. You never know, you could find your best friends, study group, or even soulmate through a Zoom session.
  3. Watch a movie or show together: You can combine this option with a video or voice chat. Pick a movie or TV show, and go! Netflix Party, a chrome extension, allows users to sync, so you can all watch your program at the exact same time. It also comes with a chat function. Another option is to go old-school, and each watch your program on your own device and chat using Groupme, Discord, or text. As long as you stay at relatively the same spot in the program, this should work!
  4. Buy food from the same restaurant, and eat it at the same time. This is another option to combine with a video chat. If you can’t eat together at a restaurant, order the same takeout, and eat at home. You can have conversations over video. This way, you can also support local businesses. 
  5. Put forth the effort. All of the above options require some work. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to make friends virtually. Even under the current circumstances, if you put forth the effort to organize and attend virtual hangouts, you can still make friends. This may push you out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and I encourage creativity. If your school does allow you to meet in person for orientation, take advantage of that opportunity to safely meet people. In the meantime, these options can help you make friends as we all navigate these troubling times, together.

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