How To Remind Yourself Why You’re In Medical School Studying

In the middle of a semester where the days are filled with endless studying, lab work, real work, homework, club responsibilities, and an attempt at a social life, it is very important to remember why you are doing it all. For me, I anticipated this semester to be one of the most challenging – full of three upper-level science classes and an English class, a TA for organic chemistry, two jobs, two leadership positions in clubs, in addition to a slurry of other unnamed obligations that I am thankful I get to do.

I admit, though, that my mindset the entire semester has been to just get through it, while maintaining my GPA, friendships and social life, and my mental health. In the midst of studying late nights for physics exams or waking up early to review biochemistry notes, I became unaware of the wave that is carrying me through the semester. I think this is a popular defense mechanism; it is essentially focusing on surviving instead of thriving. However, as I am carried along the wave characterized by work, school, and sleep, I easily lose sight of why any of it matters. I live in the mindset of “just get it done”. If you’re in this type of semester or phase of life, I urge you to find yourself something that will daily, weekly, or monthly remind you why what you are doing matters.

For me, that is volunteering at the Hope Lodge. The Hope Lodge is owned by the American Cancer Society and is a place where people receiving cancer treatment can stay for free. I’ve been volunteering there for a little over a year now and have formed some of my favorite memories with people at the Hope Lodge. I love to bake, so I started out going once or twice a month to bake cupcakes or cake for the guests to indulge in. Now I lead a Birthday Club once a month and bake to celebrate the lives of those who have birthdays! Baking is a meaningful and rewarding activity for me, and I love making people happy with something sweet and delicious; you have to find what you feel is worth sacrificing study or work time for and commit to it. I have yet to go to the Hope Lodge without having a conversation that perked up my week and refocused why it is that I am studying so hard and trying to become a physician.

I once sat down with a breast cancer patient while eating dinner and ending up talking to her all night about remission, cancer treatment, and faith. I was reminded that the biochemical disruption in cell signaling that I study in class affects real humans who have cancer. The thermodynamic equilibria I study in biophysical chemistry maintains homeostasis in the healthy cells of these patients, causing their bodies to resist disease. The mechanical movement of their heart is governed by basic physical principles that I learn in physics class. Conversing with patients living with disease and undergoing cancer treatment reminds me why I am studying to become a doctor. They show me why any of it matters.

You have to find will remind you why you want to be a physician. Maybe that will be shadowing, volunteering, research, or reading a medical book, but whatever it is, don’t forget about it in the middle of a tough semester. I have oftentimes felt jaded, discouraged, and simply unmotivated because I have forgotten why my studying matters. The conversations I have with cancer patients while eating some creatively decorated cupcakes reminds me. The patients are why I am doing this, why we all are; they are why it matters. Find what reminds you of that and don’t let it go.

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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.