Being a medical student isn’t exactly an easy task. Certainly there were months where I goofed off, ignored my duties, and just enjoyed life. But there were also months, lots of months, where I went to the hospital at 4:45 in the morning, barely ate lunch, and felt like a complete, total and utter idiot all day. I would come home, collapse on the couch at 7:30 and feel like my soul had been slowly devoured by my seeming lack of purpose on the hospital team, overwhelmed by the extent of disease and suffering that I was bearing witness to all day. When I would try and talk about struggles with classmates or teammates, they would often dampen these deep feelings and say “that’s just part of medicine”.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved medical school. It was an incredible experience to learn such a depth and breadth of information so quickly. It was amazing to see myself grow in my abilities to manage patients. It was awesome as a 4th year to teach the 3rd years how to evaluate a post-surgical patient on Gynecologic Oncology, and to give an effective assessment and plan. When I was called to a room with a sick patient alone, I at least could feel confident at the first steps to take to manage their illness. It was a great opportunity to work with a variety of people at all levels of training and meet so many incredible patients who were struggling with debilitating diseases. It was fantastic to improve my presentations and feel like I could communicate less emotionally and more effectively than I ever could before.
Even so, medical school can make you feel really unimportant. Every exam you do is repeated, every note you write scrutinized, every patient you see is asked the same question at least twice. I’m not complaining; I think that medical education is extremely effective and that no medical student should have any real power. My point is that it’s important to feel important.
It’s important, no matter how tired you are, to come home and have a hobby. It’s important to do something that has nothing at all to do with your job (no matter how hard I try to make food and medicine related) that keeps your hands and mind active but that you can mentally drift in and out of. It doesn’t matter what this is. If you love working out, go to the gym. If you like crossword puzzles, do that. Dr. Bates, a plastic surgeon in Arkansas loves to quilt and blog about it.
I don’t cook because it’s healthier than eating out. I don’t cook because it’s cheaper. I appreciate these benefits, but these are peripheral rewards. I cook because I love to cook, it’s easy and fun, and it makes me feel good about myself. I love the surprise of opening the fridge and discovering half an onion and some chicken and making a delicious and warm meal. I love the sensation of running my knife through a red pepper, and I love the feel of mashing up raw meatloaf with my bare hands.
Don’t cook because somebody else tells you you should. Cook because you love to, and because you love to feed the people around you. Yeah, it might be healthier, or not, if you bake a lot like I do. If you don’t like to cook, then don’t. There are plenty of other ways to find food.
My advice for all of you, whether you’re doctors or not, is to find a hobby that is just for you, and make sure YOU like doing it no matter whatever anybody else tells you to do. Find your hobby and do it. No matter how much you eat or how little you exercise, as long as you have things that you like to do, being happy, productive and fulfilled is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overwhelming pressure to be skinny with perfect test scores, friendships, communication skills, a clean bedroom and a happy family life. I have to remind myself that I have survived medical school and done a good job, which in itself is an enormous feat. I’m not perfect, but I love to cook and I love what I do, and for right now, that’s good enough.