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Maintaining a Spiritual Life in Medical School

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A medical student offers advice for anyone who wants to maintain their faith or spiritual life while attending medical school.

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The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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Mary Melati is a first-year medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is a daughter, sister, girlfriend, advocate, artist, bookworm, and much more. She strives to make the world a better place by always being her authentic self and working to reach her fullest potential so she can help others reach theirs too.

Practicing my faith throughout the long application process and during medical school has been one of the most important ways I maintain my well-being.

During the medical school interview process, I was lucky to have a close group of friends who reminded me to lean on my faith whenever I felt anxious. In the beginning, I always said a Hail Mary prayer to calm myself down before I walked into an interview, and afterwards I went to the nearest church to reflect on my day and ask God for the grace to accept whatever the outcome would be. I recited a rosary prayer in my campus chapel when I got my first rejection in October, received my first acceptance in December, and got waitlisted at my top choice school in March. Interestingly, when I interviewed at the school I would later decide to go to, I connected with my student interviewer about practicing our faiths in medical school. She told me that her spiritual life helps her stay balanced. Fast forward a year later, I now clearly understand what she meant.

My faith has been a dependable antidote for feelings of loneliness or inadequacy in medical school. When I moved to this new city, I found a faith community in the hospital chapel. I do the readings for weekly Sunday Mass, and when I see the congregation of patients, doctors, and nurses, I am reminded that I am part of something larger than myself. The readings also remind me that I also have a larger purpose in life than getting an “A” on the next test. When I am most hard on myself, or when I get caught up in my expectations and results, I remember that I am doing my best and that God will do the rest. Finally, when I feel overwhelmed by responsibilities, I read a few Bible verses and say a few prayers and feel strengthened to persevere. In a wonderful paradox, my faith allows me to be grounded in something constant and to be free of the things that I cannot control.

I believe that maintaining a spiritual life is as important as eating every day or going to the gym every week. Here is some advice for anyone who wants to also maintain their faith or spiritual life in medical school:

  • Find a community. Look for student groups or services in your campus, hospital chapel, or neighborhood. Perhaps there are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu evening prayer services that you can routinely attend. Consider starting a local chapter of the Catholic Medical Students Association, Christian Medical Society, Jewish Medical Student Association, Muslim Medical Association, or an interfaith group if there is not one already established.
  • Reconnect with your old community. Some of my close friends from college were from my faith community and now, they are also medical students. They help me maintain my spiritual life by sending me prayer cards filled with Bible verses or photos of the patron saints of physicians and students. Recently, I was even able to catch up and say the rosary prayer with one of them over the phone.
  • If you feel safe to do so, be open about your faith or spiritual life. At first, I felt like I could not talk openly in medical school about my faith out of fear that people may think I am "old-fashioned". However, I was surprised to find others who are also spiritual or religious, and I have gained some close friends in medical school after bonding with them over this important aspect of our lives.
  • Learn from your classmates and patients about their faith or spiritual life. Just because someone practices their faith or spiritual life differently than you do, it does not mean you cannot connect with them. If they bring up their faith or spiritual life in conversation, be open to listen and ask questions to learn more. I believe that within the diversity of creeds and modalities, there is an opportunity to find solidarity and common ground with everyone.

Maintaining your faith and spiritual life goes hand-in-hand with maintaining well-being in medicine. By developing our faiths or spiritual lives, I hope we will be able to find more peace in this journey of becoming competent and compassionate doctors.

Mary Melati
Medical Student
University of Maryland School of Medicine

Read more about religion and spirituality in the lives of medical students

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