Writing Your Way to Wellness

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student writing in journal

Mental health and wellness are growing areas of concern for today’s medical students and health care providers. According to the National Academy of Medicine, 35%-54% of doctors and nurses and 45%-60% of medical students and residents experience symptoms of burnout. The World Health Organization describes burnout as physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion and feelings of negativity, distancing, and/or reduced productivity resulting from chronic workplace stress. As aspiring doctors and future health care providers, it is important to begin to develop healthy practices and stress management techniques now.

One practice that many health care providers and medical students find helpful is narrative self-reflection, or journaling. In narrative self-reflection, reflective writing is used to document personal or professional experiences, to think deeply about those experiences, and to consider the impact of those experiences on your feelings, beliefs, thoughts, goals, and passions. This type of writing allows you to process your positive and negative experiences in order to make meaning out of them for your own growth and development.

Here are some ways you can use narrative self-reflection or journaling on your journey toward a career in medicine:

  1. You can regularly spend time writing about why you are interested in becoming a doctor. What inspires you? What excites you? Why is a career in medicine important to you? 

    When you are juggling demanding courses and preparing for high-stakes exams you can reread your responses for motivation and inspiration.

  2. You can list your champions and supporters. Name them and the ways they have shown care and concern for your success.

    When long hours of work or study feel isolating, you can revisit your list of champions and remember that there are people who want the best for you.

  3. After each clinical, shadowing, volunteer, or research experience, you can write about what you observed. What do you remember about the space, the people, and the processes? What questions arose for you? How did the experience make you feel?

    When you are ready to apply to medical school, this journal entry will provide you with concrete examples you can include in your essays and personal statements.

  4. After any success or accomplishment, you can write about the victory. What led to your achievement? What steps did you take? How did it make you feel? How did you celebrate?

    This will help you to remember what disciplines or practices have worked for you in the past and will remind you that you are capable of achieving your goals.

  5. After any failure or disappointment, you can write about what you learned from the experience. Consider what led to the failure or disappointment. What can you do differently as you go forward?

    You can share excerpts from these reflections to demonstrate your resilience and capacity for improvement in your medical school and scholarship essays and interviews.

Journaling about your experiences can help you process your thoughts and experiences, gain inspiration and encouragement, remember your why, and make a plan for continued growth on your road to medicine.

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