The Care and Keeping of Your Med Student

Monday, February 23, 2015

This past Saturday marked one year from the day I found out that I was accepted to medical school (again) and would be completely upending my life (and Ken's) to chase this crazy dream of becoming a physician. I couldn't have gotten here without my friends and family helping me along, but it is definitely an adjustment for everyone when someone goes from being a "real adult" with a job and mostlyfree nights and weekends to being a full time student who can tell you everything you would ever want to know (and then a lot you didn't want to know) about gastrointestinal parasites, but can no longer handle basic life skills like laundry and often finds her keys in the refrigerator.

(Hi, welcome to my life.)

So, if you're fortunate enough to love a med student (or a grad student of any kind), here is your handy guide to keeping your sanity while you help them keep theirs.

So you're married to/friends with/related to/living with/tangentially associated with a med student...

Congratulations! And our condolences. What you're about to embark upon is an adventure filled with twists, turns, tears, laughter, a lot of paper, more coffee than you can imagine, and probably some really gross pictures that you wish you hadn't seen. But it's also going to be great, because you're going to watch your loved one achieve one of their life goals! And it's also going to be terrible because you have to be involved with a person who we can probably safely assume is of above-average intelligence, but who now has lost all ability to function like a normal human being. There will also probably be crying. BUT REALLY, it is going to be great. Trust me.

How can I best prepare myself to take care of my med student?

Excellent question. Obviously, the answer varies depending on your relationship with the med student. Are you roommates? Best friends? Siblings? Legally bound to them at a federal level? Regardless, at the very least, here's a list of things to get you started:

1. Caffeine - Unless you have a rare med student on your hands, caffeine will become a new part of the food pyramid. Probably the part on the bottom that used to be occupied with grains or whatever. The preferred caffeinated beverage of the med student is coffee, but tea, Red Bull or other energy drinks, and 5 Hour Energy are all options. This med student prefers lattes, but being a med student, is too poor to drink lattes all the time, so she defaults to coffee with fancy syrup in it, or tea. This med student also is afraid of energy drinks and highly recommends that you not consume them, even though caffeine is caffeine, so it doesn't actually matter. Anyway, have caffeine on hand.

2. Paper, and lots of it - Lined paper, printer paper, legal paper, post-its, cocktail napkins -- whatever you have, make sure you don't run out. (This med student does not recommend taking notes on cocktail napkins, for the record.) You might have a med student who really likes taking notes on his or her computer, but there comes a time when you need to draw the brachial plexus 9,000 times, or you have to make a flow-chart to describe how the renin-angiotensis-aldosterone system works. For those moments, paper is the only way*.

*See #3 for alternatives.

3. White boards - Even if your med student is really into paper (like this one happens to be), he or she will require at least one white board. The bigger the better. White boards are integral for sketching biochemical pathways with various colored dry erase markers, for listing the 462 different microbes for a single exam, and for banging your head into when you realize that there are 3 more lectures to go in this block and you can't understand how you're going to fit anymore information into your brain. (Med student caretakers may also use the whiteboard as a head-banging implement for when your med student is driving you bonkers.) Savvy students and their caretakers can pick up GIANT sheets of whiteboard for around $12, and the nice people there will even cut it for you. Then your med student can plaster the walls of their room with white boards and draw to their hearts' content. 

4. Snacks - Every med student has their own preferred study snack. Whatever it is, make sure it's well-stocked, especially during exam weeks. Hell hath no fury like a hangry med student.

5. Tissues - Eventually, your med student will get sick. Or cry. Or both. 

So, food, coffee, and office supplies. I can do that.

But wait, there's more! Simply keeping your med student fed and caffeinated is one thing, but the moral and emotional support part of the job is another beast entirely. Your med student is about to get on a roller coaster of emotions that lasts 4 years, but pretend that the loops and spirals and gut-dropping hills are actually class exams, practicals, rotations, and board exams. (Trust me, you'd rather have the loop-de-loops.) Your formerly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed loved one can go from excited to depressed, confident to a quivering pile of goo, focused to more chaotic than a toddler hyped up on birthday cake, and passionate to contemplating alternate life plans like herding goats in Greece... all in the span of an afternoon! You may contemplate putting your loved one on a mood stabilizer, or at the very least, slipping a Benadryl into their next cup of coffee, but this is all perfectly normal. Your med student will return to whatever their baseline crazy was, because let's face it, none of these people are normal, and life will resume. In the interim, here are some tips for being that emotional rock that your med student truly needs (even if they don't know it).

1. Remind your med student that this is something they wanted to do. They may not want to hear it, because at some points, literally anything sounds more appealing than going through those anatomy slides, but somewhere, deep inside, is that little pre-med still doing a happy dance that started the day your med student got their acceptance letter in the mail. Find the tiny pre-med and hold onto it! (That sounds kind of creepy. Whatever, you know what I mean.)

2. Make your med student take breaks. He or she may hunker down for hours at a time, not moving, barely breathing, often making you wonder if they've gone into some kind of trance or perhaps fallen asleep while sitting up. After making sure that your med student is, in fact, awake, gently recommend that your med student take a break. Maybe drink some water instead of a 14th cup of coffee. Have a snack. Go outdoors for 15 minutes! There is life beyond the library/Starbucks/desk in the office. 

3. Don't ask questions to which you don't want the real answers. For example, "When will you be finished studying?" or "Why do you have to study so much?" never have good answers. Sample answers may include:

"Never, because I am so far behind I want to cry."
"When I am dead. Which may be soon."
"NOW, because I am giving up and going to herd goats in Greece."


"Because I am a masochist."
"Because I am so far behind that i want to cry."
"Because I am a moron. How did I even get into medical school? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE!? I'm going to go herd goats in Greece." (This one usually leads into some kind of existential meltdown.)

Better questions to ask are ones like, "When's the last time you took a break?" (see #2) or "Can I get you a snack?" But seriously, we know that you miss the old life we used to have, where we could binge watch Netflix and go out on Saturdays and have conversations that didn't start with, "Last week, in the cadaver lab..." There are approximately 400 things that we'd rather be doing that studying, and when you ask when we'll be done or why we have to study so much, it breaks our hearts just a little bit. We'll come back to you eventually. We promise.

4. Find out the "Love Language" of your med student. This sounds corny, but hear me out. The 5 Love Languages is a book by Gary Chapman that he wrote after observing that there were different kinds of love that were given and received between clients he saw in his therapy practice. It's geared towards couples, but since love is love, it works with parent-child relationships, friendships, and people who are single. If you know your med student's primary love language, you can help support them in the best way you can. (Also, it's fun to take the quiz and see what your own love language is!)

Okay. So, anything else?

Of course. Here are a few general tidbits that you can definitely use to help take care of your med student.

1. Be understanding. This seems obvious, but make sure your med student knows that you "get it" when they have to cancel plans or when they can't seem to talk about anything but school. Even if you don't really "get it," your med student really needs to hear that you aren't going to disown them, even if they're now the most boring person on the face of the planet (and they probably need a shower).

2. Realize that you probably don't understand. I know, numbers 1 and 2 seem to contradict each other. Sometimes that happens. Life is not simple. Anyway, if you've never been to med school, there is really no way to describe what it is like to be a med student in a way that makes sense. There are analogies that kind of work. "It's like having finals week, every week," or the more traditional, "It's like drinking from a fire hose," are often cited. But really, until you've lived it, you will not truly understand what it's like to be in the trenches of medical school. That's okay, though! Your med student doesn't expect you to understand. In fact, your med student needs to you tether him or her to reality outside of med school. You are an important part of this equation!

3. Be watchful. This is a more serious tidbit, but it is very important. You know your med student probably better than most people. Med school is extremely stressful, both physically and mentally. It is very easy for your med student to become sleep-deprived and ill, or to become anxious or depressed. If you think your med student requires medical attention, make sure you let them know that you are worried. If you think that your med student is going to hurt him or herself, or someone else, you can absolutely inform someone else like the school or their parents or spouse. This isn't meant to scare you, but sometimes it is hard to ask for help. Your med student will thank you, I promise.

4. Help your med student remember that they are more than a med student. This one is very important. Your med student probably feels like their entire life can be distilled down to every exam they take. They may forget that their hard work and their grades are not the reasons that you like to be around them. Remind your med student that there is more to life than med school, and that no, their only friend is not their cadaver. Continue to talk about the things that you enjoy doing together, and help your med student to remember that someday, they will not be in med school and they might have some semblance of a normal life. (Do not, under any circumstances, say anything about how stressful and awful residency might be. And fellowship? Forget it.) Focus on the positives. 

This sounds hard. 

I won't lie to you, it is. But your med student will appreciate it more than you know, even if they don't tell you and sometimes you feel like being friends with your med student's cadaver might be for emotionally fulfilling. The good news is that your med student will totally be able to tell you if you're dying and might be able to treat your back pain with OMM if you're lucky enough to be friends with a DO. You also get to watch as your loved one achieves their lifelong goal of becoming a physician, and to know that you were a part of that is pretty special. Loving a med student is difficult, but it is incredibly rewarding. I promise.


To my husband, friends, and family, I could not have gotten to this point without you. Thank you for feeding me, doing my laundry, making me sleep, making me laugh, drinking wine with me, crying with me, and holding me up. Thank you for the hugs, the phone calls, and the encouraging texts and emails. Thank you for doing all of these things that I wrote about and more. Thank you for being you. When I graduate in 2018, you all get honorary DO's, in my book. (For now, let's not think about how far away 2018 feels.) 

I love you all.

- A

PS: Don't forget to enter this giveaway that Kate is running all week!!

Too Faced Eye Shadow Collection Giveaway

Elizabeth & Luke - Something Saturdays
Alison - Simply A

For this month's giveaway, we're doing something a little bit difference: the winner will get to choose which eye shadow collection from Too Faced they receive! The choices are: Natural Eye, Cat Eyes, Boudoir Eyes, Country Nashville, and Rock n Roll.


- The giveaway goes from 2/23/15 12:01 AM - 3/1/14 11:59 PM.
- You must be in the USA to win.
- You must be over 18 to win.
- I always choose the winner through Rafflecopter within 48 hours. Sometimes I forget to announce the winner on the widget, but I always email the winner, so if you don't receive an email, you can assume that you did not win. (I will/do, of course, try to remember to announce the winner, I promise!)
- The winner must respond to that email within 48 hours. If they do not do that, I choose another winner, and they also have only 48 hours,

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