The Power of Embracing and Including Support Networks in the Medical School Journey

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When I was a first-year medical student, I was knee-deep in the whirlwind of academic challenges, especially as I geared up for my very first medical school exam.

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Amanda Magana, Albany Medical College, Class of 2026

It's during one of my Pomodoro sessions that my phone lit up with a FaceTime call from my mom. Her voice carried a mix of concern and curiosity as she asked, "Is now a good time to chat? I haven't heard from you in almost a week." Had it really been a week since I had talked to my mom? Her genuine interest and worry hit home with me and made me realize that this is a common struggle for many of us in medical school: maintaining connections with our support networks while navigating the demanding medical school curriculum.

I was the first in my family to step into the world of medical education and it came with its own unique set of pressures. As I grappled with imposter syndrome and the intricacies of medical studies, it struck me that my family lacked a deep understanding of what I was going through—the ins and outs of my courses, exam schedules, and milestones like step exams, clinical rotations, and The Match. These things were all foreign to them. How could I expect my family to understand when I explained to them that I couldn’t text back because I was busy reading First-Aid and watching Sketchy pharm at 2x speed? It’s almost like I was speaking another language. This realization sparked a longing for more support and understanding from those closest to me, leading me to initiate a transformative project.

Driven by my need for others to understand what I was going through, I took on the role of an orientation leader at Albany Medical College (AMC), teaming up with peers and student affairs faculty mentors to establish AMC's newest club: KINSHIP: "Kin of Individuals Nurturing and Supporting Health Professionals." The club’s goal is clear: bridge the gap between medical students and their support networks through custom-tailored educational sessions and meet-ups, aiming to build community and create space for those going through this medical school journey. The inaugural workshop, offered to support networks of incoming first- year students, was entitled "Medical School 101." We covered a range of topics, including deciphering medical jargon, understanding academic schedules, tips and tricks to improve communication, and discussing how to stay connected during the journey.

The overwhelming success of our workshop, attended by a diverse group of 96 individuals, including parents, guardians, and partners, underscored the importance of inclusive support structures throughout the medical school. To continue our efforts, we set up avenues for ongoing involvement, including a dedicated support network listserv to announce future sessions. We scheduled subsequent workshops like "Understanding and Weathering the Step 1 Journey Together" and “What to Expect when Your Loved one is Entering Medical School.” These workshops were met with equal enthusiasm from medical student support network members, and they paved the way for continuous support and understanding for medical students at all stages of their education.

By embracing and empowering support networks, we fostered a sense of community that transcends the boundaries of academia. These initiatives not only continue to ease the burden on medical students, but they also deepen understanding of the challenges and triumphs inherent in our medical education journey. As we forge connections and nurture empathy, we celebrate the transformative impact of support from family, friends, and partners on shaping the future of healthcare and demystifying medical education.

Amanda Magana is a rising third-year medical student at Albany Medical College. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology at UCLA. She identifies as a first-generation student and is dedicated to uplifting first-generation medical students and pre-medical students.

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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.