For most of us it’s past the point of a clean get away. So, you have to make a decision to ride this rollercoaster marathon for four months, give or take, or have them write W on your permanent records. No pressure in the decision right? When it gets to this point, there’s no real joy in making a decision that could affect the rest of your life because there’s no definitive answer. The first thing that runs through our mind is, “Shit, I’m gonna get a W on my record, medical school admissions will basically think I’m a failure and couldn’t do it!” And if you have any investment of emotions in this, I’m sure your head comes up with even more elegant words and phrases. Or, “I failed my first exam in this class and it’s affecting all my other classes, I have this, this and that extracurricular, I don’t want a W, I have to stick it out, I have to study harder. I’m just gonna get no sleep for the next three months and lock myself in my room.”
While making your decision, remember everyone has different stories applying to medical school and with that admission’s committees have the tough job of deciphering through those and making a decision based on the whole package and not just the numbers.
It’s not the end of the world
When you’re making the decision to drop a class and the stress that you’re going through in your life, it can be a pretty traumatic experience. This is the rest of your life that we’re talking about. Some of us have wanted this for a few years and some of us have wanted this as long as we can remember and now it’s finally at the point where every day and every hour counts; which is absolutely right. Getting a W sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s going to be a brief four month period, give or take a few months plus the break in between and then you hit it hard next semester. You’ve lived for roughly twenty years, you have a lot of achievements and you’re going to have many more in the future. If you do end up getting one, take it, deal with what happened, and move on to the next semester.
Yes, it’s not a great idea to rack up W’s like their candy because medical schools may look at that and ask why you need to drop coursework so much, but if it really came down to it, there are many things you can do to make up for shortcomings in your stats. You’ll be okay, we promise; in the long run you’ll laugh about it and wonder why you thought it was such a big deal.
The Benefits of Stress
Despite what we all think, stress is great for our bodies. From a biological standpoint, if there was no stress, our bodies would be at equilibrium and we would cease to exist. When we want to lose weight or get toned muscles, what do we do? We work out. And why do we work out? We work out to stress our bodies, if we want more muscle and we lift weights to get more muscle, our bodies are adapting to the new found physical stress. Your muscles are building bigger so it can handle the stress of lifting those weights.
We want to do the same thing when we study. We don’t know as much about the mind as we do the muscles but we know a few things. Long-term potentiation is a student’s best strategy for this. It refers to creating neural synapses in the brain that will hold memories. When we study, we want to stress our mind to build skills such as memory, cognition, critical thinking, and all those wonderful words. Those words are the muscles of the mind, they’re your scholarly biceps, triceps, and quadriceps, they’re what you need for a toned mind that is ready for the competition (midterms).
Studying is great. Putting in long hours is preparing you not only for later in your bachelors but for medical school. Not having enough time for everything. Not having much of a life (sucks but most of the time it’s what it takes for science majors). Worrying about midterms and exams and how you’re going to do on them is great, it’s healthy. It’s training you to be a functioning human being that can contribute so much for society. This is why three semesters later you make comments like, “Oh my gosh, I feel like I have no time for anything, I had so much time in gen chem, those classes were so much easier.” Because you’ve stressed your mind, you’ve trained it to do better and better and better and this is the entire purpose of education. Stress is healthy.
The Torture in Overwhelmed
Stress is fun, overwhelmed is not. Biologically, you can have a whole army of things working against you, increased cortisol levels, decreased immune function, decreased ability to learn and remember things (counter-productive right?), and if it persists long enough decreased functioning in organ systems. Psychologically, a decreased ability to cope with normal life situations increased panic / anxiety attacks, decreased ability for time management. Already it seems like the side-effects for a drug commercial, the only thing I didn’t list is dysentery and death.
Being overwhelmed is not really helping you become a better person in the healthiest way and more often than not it’s going to work against you. The hardest part is figuring out whether or not you’re at this point. It seems like 9 times out of 10 most people aren’t overwhelmed and they’re just stressed, which is what makes it hard. Because 90% of the time everything is fine, it’s the 10% of the time, “Can I really do this or do I need to stop?”
Quick example, if it’s the first round of midterms and you feel like it’s finals week and you’re having panic attacks every day, you can’t keep the day straight and you can’t get a grasp on anything, and it’s just that you feel like you have no time, you have no time, you need to reevaluate. There’s a reason finals week is “only a week” and not sixteen weeks.
Are you just stressed and you can tough it out to build a better you or are you overwhelmed and it’s time to take a step back and slow down your journey to medical school to save yourself. To those who haven’t been in school for a long time, you’re going to get a lot of different perspectives from people. A lot of people are going to tell you to suck it up, stop complaining, and just do it. And sometimes you need that because 8 or 9 times out of 10 it’s just going to be stress. You’re going to get the other end of the spectrum too, “yeah maybe you shouldn’t do it and just drop.” Well, that’s not always good either because you have to push yourself in school. What are the odds that all these people really know you? What are the odds they really know everything you’re going through? They don’t know what you feel, they may not know your financial and family situations, they may not know how many hours you volunteer; they don’t know you.
Here’s a little personal anecdote to help drive the point home before the outro. I’ve been at the point of stressed where I didn’t think I could get it done, I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked before and I pulled off everything for that semester. I cut out everything and just did what I had to do. I’ve also been at the point of overwhelmed, for more than one semester, and it’s not fun. Don’t underestimate the sneakiness of post-traumatic stress disorder or some other psychological variant. Cut it before it gets worst and makes your journey unbearable. This journey is supposed to be amazing, exciting, rewarding, and fun; it’s much easier that way.
Good luck onfinals everyone. Keep up the great work and remember medical school is sooner than you think.