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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Med Students and their vices

My roommate is currently practicing the alcoholism screening test on me. I'm pretty sure all med students are on the spectrum- everyone has their vices and they all come out in med school. Good news, I'm not an alcoholic. Now if there was an online shopping addiction test... that one I would fail. Ha, what a good cliche joke everyone can relate to!

Back to those pesky vices: as a group, medical students might be the most unhealthy people on the planet (the irony is self evident). From the stress eating to the post block beers and the people who are less low key than me and take their outlets to levels I can't relate to and won't comment on. Med students love their vices. It's understandable really, we're in this insanely high pressure environment and have to constantly succeed - it's really a wonder we aren't all on drugs. Are we? That would be an interesting study. I have a tendency to be blissfuly naive in these situations so I can't actually fully comment on med students and their relaxation methods other than the ones I partake in which are: puffy cheetos and wine. I'm a stereotypical white girl, I know.

It's really fascinating that people who know exactly what these cigarettes, drugs, terrible foods, and alcohol are doing to their bodies continue to pump them in with little regard. There are definitely students who blow off steam at the gym and finish it off with a kale smoothie but the majority aren't in that boat.

After starting this post I became very interested in what my friends thought on the subject and asked a few to share their opinions. Bryant captured the general attitude with his comment "I think med students vices resurface because of the insane stress and pressure we're under. I smoke and drink alcohol like a fish.. I actually stopped smoking when I was a junior in undergrad but I started again when I got to the island". Mostly people replied with similar and very relatable reminder that we're under a ton of pressure and the stress is constant and always building; each semester offers more challenges than the last and leaves less time to deal with it. My question is why are medical students different? Other people face stress, other people face arguably more stress than medical students but according to the Psychiatric Clinic of North America (That's right, I did research) medical students have an alcohol rate of consumption higher than that of the general population and women are particularly noted to match their male peers in alcohol consumption by the end of their medical school career- a phenomenon not seen amongst other professional school students.

A friend pointed out that medical students might have more vices than the general population because over time we become better equipped to handle stress. Right now we're trying to make our lives happen, once we're doctors we're there, it's like we've reached the light at the end of the tunnel. That's why medical students might drink more than doctors, they've still got way more to overcome". -Akansha (she said I didn't have to give her credit but I thought that was very wise and deserved it) To add to that, I think it's more socially acceptable and even encouraged for medical students to binge drink than it is for physicians. Our welcome back parties take place at clubs and bars where the enticing factor is often free or reduced drinks. It's seen as something that is going to happen and should - the line "work hard, play hard" rings very true among medical students. On top of that we're still young, we're in a limbo between undergrad and the "real world" - it feels perfectly acceptable to go out to the bar on a Monday night and have several drinks after block exams, something someone in our age group, already in their career might not do. Medical school is a really unique experience, especially when it's on an island. My roommate, Meghan pointed out that not only are we taken out of our normal environment but we've got the added pressure of medical school - it's a lot to handle and it's very additive.

However, there are a number of students who don't drink, eat a bag of ruffles, or smoke a pack of cigarettes when things get tough. Gita the yogini summed it up pretty perfectly "You really have to know yourself and your patterns well in order to control them. That only comes with a lot of introspection.. there's nothing special about med students and their vices resurfacing. It happens with lawyers too and single moms and people who are bored. It happens to anyone who doesn't know themselves". Gita has a unique perspective, she's studied yoga and is a very mature and introspective person (you can all LOL but we all know deep down, it's true.) A lot of students aren't there yet. Part of medical students propensity to rediscover their long lost habits might come from the way we've been taught to think. As an undergrad I was taught to work and think critically and that personal weakness wasn't allowed if I wanted to get into medical school. Now, those habits are still very ingrained but the pressure has risen exponentially. I can't speak for every medical student out there but teaching people to think hard about the world around them and not about themselves can lead to students slapping some boozy bandages on their stress. I'm not saying that every medical student has a drinking problem. I certainly don't consider myself or my friends to be in that group but, we've all got our vices, maybe we drink more because we're under more stress or maybe it's to cope with the countless pictures of disgusting genital infections we've got to learn in med micro. Who knows.

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