Mama M: Hopeless and Harried


Dear Mama M,

I am early into my third year med-school clinical rotations now, and I am embarrassed to say that I am still so much more than overwhelmed. There is so much to know, and it is not all just “medicine.” That’s hard enough, but no one really prepared us for the rest of “real life” getting things done on the wards: I am always getting lost in the hospital. There are always new forms for everything you order. I am supposed to text-page certain people and numeric-page others. Some forms you have to hand-carry to radiology or the lab, others you have to get in by 11 a.m. or else forget about it. Some consults that I call can be very rude and intimidating and make me feel terrible for my ignorance.

I feel so crazy and so stupid so much of the time and this is Every. Single. Day. Even after I kind of figure out how things work in a few weeks on one rotation, I then have to switch rotations and start the whole freaking thing all over again. I won’t lie to you—this is killer. I never knew how hard this part would be, let alone the learning serious medicine on the wards too. How am I ever going to survive? How does anyone survive third year?

Sincerely, Hopeless and Harried

Hey H Squared!

You forgot to mention that you are also starving, exhausted, and the fax machines don’t work.  The most exciting and deep learning experiences seem to be covered in chaos. There are absolutely no reference points for where you are.  Know that.

I was trying to buy a car in Senegal once. I had just arrived and didn’t speak any of the local or colonial languages. There were lepers crawling into the street and livestock moving freely about. Everywhere I turned, someone was asking me to “take tea.” And, I had to keep track of the man who was taking me to buy the car. This meant following him from one part of town to get a piece of paper that allowed me to get a stamp that sent me to another part of town for a permit—but then we had to meet the man’s cousin who also had a car I had to look at even though I didn’t want to buy it—all while trusting that, in a few days, I might have a car that didn’t catch on fire in the desert (which it did).

This is similar to being a third-year medical student, except you don’t get a car in the end.  But, when I reflect back, I just laugh at all that I learned about buying a car in a developing country where I was simply lost in the chaos of the unknown. I learned a lot. I survived. I grew. I laughed. You also will learn a lot. You will survive. You will grow. And you should start laughing as soon as you can, when you are not crying.

Now, do you want some practical advice (not my strong point)?

1. Make Friends with friendly people. (There are a lot of unfriendly people. Avoid them. They will bring you down.)

2. To the best of your ability take care of yourself: Eat. Pee. Get outside for five minutes.

3. Forgive yourself for not knowing everything (or anything).

4. Locate a nurse and a social worker on each unit as your go-to Love Bugs. They will help you figure the tedious stuff out that makes no sense and save you hella time.

5. Trust the process. Everyone who looks like they know what they are doing … once didn’t. Everyone has felt like crying … or quitting … or checking out emotionally … or getting mad/frustrated.  You will do these things—It’s Ok. You will find your stride and rock it! No one skips this step of being a third-year medical student—all the ones you admire were here. Trust me darlin’, you are fine. Being hopeless and harried is a temporary state of being.

Chaotically yours,