System Overload- Dealing with Emotions in Medical School
Now, why did I start off my post today talking about snail neurons? Well, it’s because I’m developing a hypothesis about why medical students become less empathetic during medical school, which I originally discussed here. I believe that myself and my fellow students are actually quite similar to those Aplysia neurons in that we’re being so emotionally stimulated that we’re beginning to experience habituation. During a single day, I go through literally hundreds of emotions in medical school. Here’s a small sample:
I’m excited when I get to perform a task in clinic for the first time, when a classmate asks me for my opinion or when I have an afternoon free post-exam.
I’m frustrated when I struggle with a test or important idea, when a patient is non-compliant with their physician’s medical advice, or when I work hard and that hard work isn’t evident in objective results.
I’m anxious that I am not smart enough to be here, that I’m forgetting an important assignment, or that I’m somehow not learning enough to be a good doctor some day.
I’m sad when patients share stories of their bad medical experiences in the past, when I talk to patients whose symptoms are negatively affecting their lives or when a patient dies.
I’m amazed by the beautiful complexity of the human body, by the amount of caring and compassion that I see, by the power that exists in medicine.
This is just a small sample of the emotions that I feel in a day. I could include others such as being hangry, exhausted, and inspired, but I think you get the point that the list is long. Mostly I feel like feeling all of these emotions is leading to my emotional habituation.