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Interview series #4: Understanding a career in medicine - do you really know what you’re in for?

Acknowledging stress in medical school and a medical career, and some tips on how to approach interview questions on stress management.

January 2021
Sana Khan
Aston University - 1st Year Medical Student

Medicine is a five-year course at the minimum. After graduating you have to complete further training: first your two foundation years and then subsequent training based on the specialty you want to go into. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication throughout your life as a student and as a doctor. You will be subjected to a lot of criticism from your seniors. There may be all-nighters during medical school and night shifts too. You’ll see tears, you’ll see death and you’ll see patients mourning. You’ll be amongst the brightest and best students in the country during medical school, so you’ll most likely be a victim of the imposter syndrome. You will experience emotions of sadness and anger and you will cry a lot. If none of that fazed you, I’m impressed. But if it got you thinking ‘she’s such a pessimist’, ‘why did she choose medical school then?’ or ‘maybe I don’t want to do medicine after all’, then hear me out.

Medicine is a long course which means you get more time to enjoy life as a student and build lasting memories. Unlike some other careers, there is a structured pathway, and the high demand for doctors means that you are almost guaranteed a job. It’s lifelong learning that helps to build your character, communication, teamwork, and leadership skills; all of which are very transferable. You will be receptive to criticism and become a better doctor as a result, so that one day when you are presented with a sick patient, that has put all their trust in you, you can use previous criticism constructively and respond appropriately in the situation. Time spent laughing and studying with your friends in medical school, and the many tiring night shifts will be worthwhile for all the lives you will touch. You will hear laughs, you’ll witness babies breathing their first breaths and see patients celebrating their health. In fact, you’ll learn to appreciate your own health more. You’ll be amongst the most kind-hearted people to exist, and the medical school community will be like a second family. You will experience emotions of happiness and excitement, and although at some points you may be confronted by challenges, you will form so many fond memories along the journey

With all that being said, stress management is key if you’re to pursue this career. We don’t want you going through burnout! So tell us, how do you cope with stress? Personally, I’ve realised that a medical career is all about teamwork, each and every step of the way. I can’t do it all on my own - it’s always a collective effort. Studying in a group and asking my peers questions when I'm unsure about things has helped me greatly – and, likewise, I offer a helping hand to them. ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’ is a cheesy line that my groupmate always uses! Also, I make sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet so that I can deal with everything that comes my way; if I am strong physically and take care of my physical health, only then can I remain well mentally. I’ve also realised that it’s not a good idea to work constantly without breaks. Breaks, just like water, are very important. You must also remember the importance of keeping up your hobbies to maintain a good work-life balance and remain sane! Join societies, make the most of opportunities and socialise with people! Exercise is a mood booster and is also an effective way to relieve stress; so, I advise joining sports clubs to encourage you to keep up exercising. Also, whenever I’m stressed I don’t keep it from others. I speak to my lecturers or the older medical students as they always have useful advice that helps me deal with my problem - they’ve been through it all before and have learnt from their own experiences.

So my question for you is: how do you manage stress? Can you prove that you will be able to handle the stress at medical school or in a medical career?

But, how exactly do you answer these questions? Here are my tips...

Step 1: Talk briefly about why it’s important to be able to manage stress, acknowledging the nature of a medicine course/career.

Step 2: State some examples of how you manage stress and why these techniques are useful.

For example, I make a to-do list and write down everything I need to do. This helps me put things into perspective; by taking things one by one I make sure to do the work in manageable amounts while I am also reassured that the work is getting done. In this way I don’t feel overwhelmed or anxious. Also, when I’m not working I take it easy and relax, and distract myself from work for a while to give myself a break.

Step 3: Mention hobbies that you may use to maintain a work-life balance and/or de-stress. This could be anything at all that interests you for example poetry, sports, spending time with friends, painting, or even yoga. Just make sure you explain how this helps you.

Step 4: Give an example of a stressful situation you have had and show how the techniques you have mentioned that help you manage stress were useful.

Now it’s your turn. To encourage you to think about the different techniques you use to manage stress consider this question:

‘You have 5 assignments due in three days and are beginning to feel stressed about the workload. How do you cope?’

Author: Sana Khan

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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