Medical school is often described as attempting to drink from a firehose. I never agreed with that analogy because it implied that you will never succeed at getting everything. However, I started to believe it when I entered my dedicated study period for USMLE Step 1. When I realized how little I knew, everything unrelated became a waste of time. Even basic needs such as eating or going outside seemed a luxury.
When I started to think that no amount of studying will ever be enough, I was quickly succumbed by imposter syndrome. I felt as if getting into medical school was a fluke, that my above-average grades were simply due to my guessing abilities. I believed that all the intelligence, blessing, and luck had run out the moment I opened my First Aid book.
Eventually, the stress and pressure got the better of me, and I fell more and more behind my study schedule. My trapezius displayed hypertonia from constant anxiety, and my gluteal muscles atrophied from unchanging posture. Feeling desperate for some sort of release, I went out on a limb and started a blog.
I first turned to writing for relief when I was 10 years old, after immigrating to the U.S. My family did not know the American system well, and we lived without internet connection for our first few weeks in the country. The only non-flip phone electronic device in the house was a laptop, which was naturally abandoned. I did what any average fifth grader would do in that situation. I dusted off the laptop, opened Microsoft Word 2003, and just started typing. In the beginning, I was simply looking for ways to amuse myself, not knowing the effect it will have on me in the future.
So, when faced with the big bad monster that was USMLE Step 1, I naturally turned to writing. I created an anonymous blog in a Korean search engine and started posting. I began with who I was, a miserable 20-something who had not left her apartment for a month. I reviewed the Step 1 prep books, as if I was an expert book critic. I described the U.S. citizenship application process, as if I was a consultant helping an immigrant family. I wrote about my current insecurities and stress in past tense, as if I had already passed Step 1 with flying colors.
Unbeknownst to me, my posts were reaching a wide audience, as the hashtags I had been putting for my own amusement were quite popular. Soon people followed vines of search strings to my blog, and I quickly acquired thousands of viewers. Korean medical students and physicians from all over the world connected with me through my blog, sharing their stories and getting encouragement from mine.
I continued posting throughout my clinical rotations, and each piece helped me process every difficult situation I experienced. Writing helped me to identify fear in a disrespectful patient’s words, to see fatigue behind a resident’s cold shoulder, and to dissipate my own burnout syndrome. Sharing my experience in an anonymous forum and getting anonymous feedback in return taught me that I was not, and will never be, alone.
It is still a work in progress, as I still fight the battle between reading up on another patient or writing another paragraph. Looking back on my writing from pre-med years reminds me why I wanted to become a doctor. Reading my blogs from Step study periods tells me that things do get better. Writing helps me reevaluate myself when I spiral down endless negative thoughts.
My blog will never teach me how to drink from the firehose. However, it has taught me to pull back, feel the temperature, and appreciate the water, from time to time.
Sunny is a third year medical student interested in medical humanities and otolaryngology.
Image: Kachka / shutterstock