What to Do and Say When Your Loved One is Struggling in Medical School
- Jan 27, 2021
- Reviewed by: Amy Rontal
Medical school can be an enormously stressful time for students and families alike. Watching your loved one struggle in medical school is sad, scary, and frustrating. You want to help but are not sure how. We have some tips to make the path forward a little easier!
Things to keep in mind regarding why med school is so hard:
- Nothing prepares you for medical school. Anyone can end up having a difficult time. Even students who historically have been star pupils, found school easy in the past, or scored well on the MCAT can struggle in med school.
- It’s easy to feel isolated and alone. Due to the consistently busy schedule and fast pace of medical school, many students’ social circles become smaller in medical school and the environment they are submerged in is highly competitive.
- All medical schools operate differently and show differing levels of support to their students. While some schools have excellent resources and are invested in the wellbeing of their students, not all do. Students can often feel like they are going under without a lifeguard in sight.
- Just because a student is struggling, it does not mean that they are not hardworking, intelligent, and passionate enough. Learning in medical school is unlike anywhere else; the volume of information is enormous and the pace in which students are expected to move through their curricula is lightning-speed. Students may be trying their best but don’t have the proper guidance, study skills, or support they need to be successful.
Ways to Help Your Med Student:
- Help your student to keep things in perspective.
It is easy to start spiraling mentally under the amount of stress med students often feel. What matters? What doesn’t matter? What can be put on the back burner? What needs to be prioritized? Medical school is a marathon that is run one mile at a time. Encourage your student to focus on one mile at a time. Help them to figure out what they can and can not control.
- Encourage your student to practice positive self care including good sleep, regular hygiene, eating healthy, keeping a clean space, and taking breaks when needed.
This stuff sounds simple, but it is super significant! You would assume that medical students would understand the importance of mental health as it is science, but too often medical professionals struggle with the very self-care practices they endorse!
- If possible, provide financial support.
It is certainly not a given that all families can afford medical school tuition and the expenses associated with it, but help however you can to alleviate your student’s financial stress. Every penny counts — no contribution is too small! Perhaps taking over a cell phone bill, wifi, or a resource subscription. Consider medical school when picking out a birthday or holiday gift.
- Provide support with household tasks.
Again, it is not not a given that you will be able to help with this! But if you can, offer to do chores like grocery shopping, cooking, or laundry. These tasks can feel impossible to squeeze in when you are under the pressure of medical school. If you can take one of these tasks off of your student’s plate, awesome!
- Encourage positive behavior and be honest if you are picking up on negative behavior.
If your student is doing something you know is unhealthy like avoiding studying due to stress, only eating one meal a day, or forgoing sleep in the name of more studying, say something. However, be sure to provide feedback in a way that feels supportive rather than judgmental. It might be easier to be agreeable, but your student needs their loved ones to bring out them best in them.
- Show understanding and avoid placing guilt on your student.
Medical students are busy around the clock for many years. It is likely your student will need to miss a family gathering, forget a birthday, or not be as present as you wish they could be. Try to remember that while this road is long, it is not forever.
- Consult a professional when it feels like your support is not enough.
We are here, ready for your call! Remember we also have tons of free resources on our website: blogs, videos, podcasts, webinars, and live Q&As!
Helpful Things to Say to an Overwhelmed Med Student:
- You are not alone. Many students are feeling the same way you are. Sadly, the competitive nature of medical school keeps students from sharing their struggle with others, but you are not the only one who feels like this. You are normal.
- You have made it this far! Gaining admissions to medical school alone is a feat in itself! You were one of a myriad of students who wanted your spot in this program. You felt the call, your school saw potential in you, and now you are here. Keep moving forward!
- Patients rarely know or care how you did in medical school. Someday you will have patients who will feel safe under your care and thankful for your help.
- Medical school can feel like a cold and isolating place but remember, this is not your entire universe! You have friends and family who love you and are so proud of the work you are doing! You will be busy for quite some time but eventually the schedule will slow down and then it will be time to party! Hang on. We will get to celebrate your success!