“Spread too thin”, is an expression that I can relate to at several points in my academic career
during college and as I write this blog post right now as I’m trying to survive my second organ systems block.
As someone who has been a high achiever since I was a child, I’ve often put pressure on myself to handle/juggle everything that school, extracurriculars, and things my personal life had to offer on my own even though I didn’t have to. It wasn’t until college when I truly realized the importance of having balance in life, finding and leaning on your support system, and knowing when to sit back and realize that you may not have everything together.
Despite the accelerated pace of a 7 year BS/MD program being a huge adjustment from high school (as it would be for even the smartest of us), my first semester of freshman year was pretty smooth. My second semester however was quite the opposite and I was in over my head. A hybrid class that combined Gen Chemistry 1 and 2 into one semester; it felt as if you’d fall 3 chapters behind if you blinked. The icing on the cake was the fact that the professor of the class at that time was notorious for making his students’ lives increasingly more difficult; a sentiment that I’m sure you can definitely attest to.
All things considered, that spring semester was my lowest point in college. I had no balance in my life, was struggling despite spending all my free time studying, withdrew from my family and friends, and didn’t engage in the activities that I usually turn to when I am overworked/stressed. As a result, I had to retake the class, BUT I prevailed and was able to put that obstacle behind me and move on. It’s funny because at the time it felt like the sky was falling and that semester would never end but since then I’ve moved on to bigger and better things and gotten past greater obstacles. I always reflect and look back at that point in my life and use it as a source of motivation whenever I feel as if I’m being pushed to the limit during school.
One of the biggest things I learned from that experience was that I shouldn’t feel like I need to be Superman and handle everything on my own; because no one can (and if someone says they are, they’re lying lol). Every step in the medical journey comes with new challenges and increased responsibilities: premed, getting into med school, USMLE Step 1 and 2, rotations, getting into residency, intern year of residency.. it never ends. That is why personally I feel that work-life balance, prioritizing self-care, and having interests outside of school and work are just as important as academic excellence because without that you’ll burn out.
Fast forward to the present, I’m currently in the midst of the Cardiology module which is the second one of my M1 year in my medical school’s curriculum. I now truly understand the expression that med school is like “drinking water out of a fire hydrant” due to the amount of information that I am responsible for learning at the moment and how conceptually heavy the material is. Right now, I just do my best to take things a day at a time and set goals for myself each week to keep myself accountable for what I am learning and manage my responsibilities outside of school. I also make sure to take time out to engage in my hobbies (music, playing/watching basketball, working out), spend time with friends, maintain my spiritual life and check in with my family and lean on them for support whenever I feel overwhelmed. So far that has been working for me and I just strive to be better each day. There’s no point in stressing over things you can’t control. It’s easier said than done but it’s worth it to keep that in the back of your head whenever life becomes overwhelming.
Sebastian G. Pierre is an MS1 at the CUNY School of Medicine. You can connect with him on Instagram @kingseb_