3 Simple Tips to Maintaining Your Happiness Throughout Med School

In her new book, What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect The Practice of Medicine, physician and author Dr. Danielle Ofri writes: “Doctors who are angry, nervous, jealous, burned out, terrified, or ashamed can usually still treat bronchitis or ankle sprains competently.”

This is so incredibly sad. And, it is most depressing to realize that the experience isn’t much different for us.

The tendency to evade our emotion begins as early in our career as our pre-med life, well before we actually don a crisp white coat and care for patients. We take such terrible care of ourselves. The process from start to finish can feel, more often than not, like a Herculean task, but we refuse to accept the frustration, anger and fatigue that are coupled with the hardships of our professional pursuit. Why do we think we are immune to emotion? Why do we forget that we are so much more than just organs, tissues, and bones?

This notoriously difficult pre-MD life can make you feel like you are gripping onto the fraying shreds of a short rope. And somehow, through it all, when we are “angry, nervous, jealous, burned out, terrified, or ashamed” we are expected to keep calm and carry on.

After days (okay, fine, maybe months) of carrying on without feeling any calm at all, I had to take a step back to process the labyrinth of conflicting emotion. I was hopeful, but also totally hopeless. I was excited, but simultaneously losing the fire that once fueled me. I was on the right road, but it seemed like I was speeding toward a dead end. I recently discovered the prescription I needed all along was buried in three basic things I had heard before, but never truly understood until I crashed and burned.

1. Be you.

One of my best friends gave me this advice and it has since been an invaluable nugget of wisdom. Be true to yourself. Be you.  Do not lose yourself while you are trying to become who you want to be. Prioritize the things that are important to you and take time everyday to enjoy what you love. For me, reading just 15 minutes daily completely revitalizes me because I can focus on something other than the minutiae of science.


2. Be present.

I learned that I am definitely an extroverted person. Being with and around people (even if those people are total strangers) energizes me. However, I also know that I need to isolate myself to study well because I can get distracted. Thus, it has been a serious challenge for me to oscillate between hibernating and being present in my friend’s lives. I was under the impression that life starts and stops according to my academic semester. (Ha. I guess I missed the memo). Now, I prioritize important relationships because work truly never ends. It is essential to learn how to balance work and life because work is NOT your life. It sounded frivolous to me at first, but I was completely surprised at how talking to others completely shifts your perspective.


3. Be healthy and happy.

Trust me when I say that if you have good health, you have everything you need to succeed. And health is more than just absence of disease. It is definitely important to exercise, eat your greens, and actually sleep. But, how are you doing, really? It is not okay to ignore mental health and you must be cognizant of your emotions. It’s okay to have a bad day (I mean, I’ve had a few bad years!). You have to be self-aware and learn early on about what bothers you. I know now that I can’t GSD if I have something else on my mind. Take the time to address an issue and start again with a positive attitude.




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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.