Being Sick in Medical School

sick in medical schoolHello my hopefully healthy readers! We’ve all heard the phrase doctors make the worst patients, but is that also true of medical students? In my experience so far, students sick in medical school make for terrible patients because most of us border on hypochondria. There’s actually a name for this phenomenon- Medical Student’s Disease- and a Wikipedia entry to match. Medical Student’s disease is basically a propensity to believe that you have the symptoms of whatever disease you’re studying. For example, since we started dermatology, I don’t know how many of my classmates have independently diagnosed themselves with skin cancer. A girl in the back row is coughing, and we just had a lecture on TB? Guess what we all suspect she has.

We also don’t really like to or have the option to slow our lives down, to rest up and get well soon when we’re actually sick. Moreso than even in our college education, missing information in medical school is not a feasible option. Even if a fact is not tested on an exam, that doesn’t mean it won’t be on the Step One exams or won’t be necessary to treat or diagnose a patient later. Missing class or clinic now just means that we’ll have to make it up later. So, we may as well go when we’re sick.

Additionally, medical students seem to have an overarching Alice in Wonderland philosophy about applying our medical knowledge to ourselves, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” We know, in theory, that most of our illnesses will be cured by rest, fluids and a trip to our own medical care provider if necessary. Do we ever take our own advice? Unlikely. Instead, we continue to run ourselves ragged and prolong the length of our illness. I know several of my classmates who “don’t like to go to the doctor” unless it’s to shadow them and spend the day learning.

The real question is, how will we manage to become trustworthy doctors who get our patients to listen to our advice when we don’t follow it ourselves? Is it hypocritical to tell our patients to rest up while we ourselves rarely take time when we’re sick? What can we do to make medical students better patients? I would love some of your thoughts on this!

P.S. You may well intuit that I’m writing this blog post because I’m sick and you would be correct. I have the fortune/misfortune of being sick during spring break which means that while I’ve spent the last few days of my break in my sweats watching House of Cards, at least I’m not missing class.
Happy studying!
  • Sally

    The question you posed is really interesting! Medical students are so hardworking that they insist in attending class and doing their work even when they’re sick and not feeling well. I suggest that for medical students to be better patients, they would have to temporarily forget their knowledge about medicine because it will distract them “being the patient”. This probably sounds a bit impossible to do, but I think that if medical students could accept that they are also just human beings who get sick, and not simply superhero, hardworking medical students, they can bring themselves to take better care of themselves, and they can also be better patients.

    I enjoy reading your posts & this is my first time posting, so I hope that this helps :)

    • Emily Hause

      Hi Sally,
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I agree that it’s hard to forget the pieces of medical knowledge that you’re trying to retain when you go to the doctor. It’s hard too, to admit that we’re all merely human. Fortunately, when you just have a cold it will go away on its own. :-)
      Thanks again for reading!

  • brickman

    I used to suffer bouts of Medical Student’s Disease — even though I was just a medical book editor. Whatever diseases or syndromes were covered in the manuscripts I was editing, I’d start to imagine the symptoms. The only exceptions were for sex-specific diseases. I’d never start worrying that I had prostate, testicular, or penile cancers. Dermatology articles were the worst, though!

    Gracie (Mrs Brickman)

    • Emily Hause

      I wonder if it’s all medical professionals and people in the medical field who read about awful diseases? Maybe med students are just noisier about it.
      I’m glad that you never worried about prostate cancer though!

  • Guest

    What are you sick with? An allergy to commas?

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