Four Qualities that Unlock Positive Mental and Emotional Health

The journey to becoming a doctor is a marathon, not a sprint, we are often told. I am three years into a potentially 8-13 yearlong journey toward becoming the physician and researcher that I aspire to be. In this short glimpse into what will undoubtedly be a challenging and rewarding experience, I have learned there are a few important qualities that every student should obtain – both to be a better future doctor and a happier student in the process. These traits have been picked up by seeing my friends who possess them, mentors and advisors that dispense wisdom to me, and through self-evaluation. While many of the qualities are easily obtainable and maintainable, sometimes the hardest part about self-reflection and improvement is taking the time to do it! In 2018, one of my goals is to practice self-reflection more often as a way to monitor my mental and emotional health. Here are some of the qualities that I think make life better, happier, and easier.


It is so easy to get caught up in the competitive, sometimes cut-throat nature that fosters itself among high-achieving and highly successful students. In these times, I have found it imperative to practice humility among your accomplished peers. While this quality is often resisted because of the need for self-validation, I believe the best feeling of accomplishment is in the celebration of others. In humility, and not arrogance, others will in turn celebrate you and your accomplishments! Practicing humility is both challenging and rewarding, though. I’ve found that I am happier and that the threat of competition diminishes whenever I can express myself through humility to those that appreciate my goals and sacrifices to get there. This is certainly a hard but good one!


This is for the time that you forgot an assignment, overslept, went to dinner with friends instead of studied, didn’t do as well as expected, or felt discouraged. I think we often forgive others more easily than we forgive ourselves. As pre-medical and medical students, the desire for perfection dominates and flaws are considered unacceptable. This isn’t fair nor is it healthy for our emotional health and wellbeing! Instead of beating yourself up for falling short of expectations, instead offer yourself some grace and space for mistakes. Brush it off, forgive yourself, and move forward with your goals and ambitions.


Ahh, not many people want to intentionally practice self-discipline. We spend our whole lives being disciplined by school systems, parents, religious organizations, and jobs just to find that we should be the biggest proponents of our own self-discipline! Discipline is what we will wake you up early a few minutes to study before an exam; it will encourage you to turn off the Netflix and instead write the paper that is due. Self-discipline is what drives you forward in the situations where you are burnt-out, tired, and needing a break. Take the break, give yourself some time off, but then use the habituation of self-discipline to remind yourself of your dreams of being a doctor. This one takes time but is crucial in leading a successful and fulfilling career.


I end with the quality that will allow you to assess all of these traits in yourself. Self-awareness is the quality of knowing your emotional, physical, social, and mental needs and taking care of those first. In the middle of a grueling and difficult semester, self-awareness is what will allow you to notice where you need extra self-love and care. In a mainstream society that glorifies challenges, self-deprivation and sacrifice, and dehumanization through social media, remember it is okay to sit down, self-reflect, and determine your needs. When times get tough, self-awareness is sometimes the first to get forgotten but is truly the doorway to obtaining the other qualities listed above.

All of these, among many others, are what I’ve learned through my short journey so far to becoming a doctor. There are countless other qualities that will unlock a healthy, happy, and fulfilling career and future as a physician. What are some of the qualities you find to be important in maintaining mental and emotional health?

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Mary Barber

Mary Barber studies Chemistry and English Literature at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. An average day for her includes running from microbiology lecture to having discussions on the writings of Nabokov to designing experiments in the lab – she says it’s a little crazy but always fun. Her passions (currently) include studying cardiovascular disease caused by cancer therapies, writing, and monthly dates baking cupcakes with cancer patients. One day when she grow up Mary hopes to be a physician researcher, treat patients with heart problems, write books, and do yoga every day.