Being Sick in Medical School

March 27, 2014
Emily Hause

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!

Emily Hause Emily has been a teacher for Kaplan for over eight years; she's taught MCAT, ACT, SAT, SAT2 and tutored pretty much every subject under the sun in both the classroom and live online (aka Classroom Anywhere) settings. She's also worked for Kaplan in content development and teacher mentorship roles. Emily is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Colorado and is hoping to go into Pediatrics. She's involved in many campus opportunities such as being a Prospective Student Representative, admissions committee member, CU-UNITE member, and co-president of the Education and Teaching Interest Group. Prior to medical school, Emily got a BA in Biochemistry and Spanish from Lawrence University and a Masters in Public Health- Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Emily enjoys dancing, baking, playing tennis and exploring her new Colorado home.

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