The New Physician
Future physicians need to look after their own health as much as they do their patients’ well-being. But this can be challenging when life becomes consumed by school, clerkships and preparing for residency. To learn how medical
students cope with the rigors of training, The New Physician asked readers to share their prescriptions for wellness. And while their advice ranges from starting a family to mountain climbing, a common thread connects each future physician’s prescription: making the time to pursue a passion that’s perhaps as equally rewarding as the journey to becoming a physician.
— Rebecca Sernett, editor
Kohar Jones -- Fourth-year, Yale University School of Medicine
For total body relaxation and soul rejuvenation, nothing beats spending time outdoors. Maybe it’s the need in all humans to connect with the sun, soil, water and air that give us life. Ventilators in the intensive care unit may breathe for humans, but the air they pump enables patients to sit in the sunshine again.
During my surgical rotation, I met a 43-year-old woman with pancreatic cancer preparing to leave the hospital 12 days after undergoing a Whipple procedure. “I am so happy I’m still alive and get to go to the shore again,” she said. “On the next sunny day, you’ll find me walking barefoot in the sand.”
The sun came out that afternoon. I stepped outside, slipped off my shoes and walked barefoot in the pansy-lined patch of grass in front of the hospital. I imagined her—scarred abdomen, dismal prognosis, reveling in the sunshine and sand at the shore.
When I play in nature, I remember how awesome it is to be alive and appreciate my growing ability to provide other people with the opportunity to fully enjoy being alive, too.
Peter Chien Jr. -- Fourth-year,New York University School of Medicine
I’ve started to deal with the stresses of medical school by photographing underwater life. This hobby developed four years ago at a medical conference in Oahu, Hawaii, where amid all the joy and stress of political activism, I decided to treat myself to a day of snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. However, it wasn’t until another conference in Hawaii four years later that I learned to scuba dive.
It was a challenging and thrilling experience. After 20-some years
of respirations above water, the concept of being able to breathe underwater took a whole morning’s pool lesson for the brain to appreciate. Learning how to stay calm and controlled in the face of leaky goggles or losing one’s regulator were also crucial skills to master. But I traded in these fears for the prospect of capturing sea turtles on camera.
After the lesson, our boat sped across Kahana Bay toward a
seemingly endless horizon. With my digital camera protected in an underwater case, I took the plunge and documented a fantastic world. The turtles were as curious about me as I was about them—or perhaps they were just curious about my camera. Whenever I whipped out the shiny metal object, they swam up to it. I was hooked.
Now I’m finishing my pediatrics clerkship. In two weeks, I’ll be scuba diving in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to explore more marine life and get my open-water certification. This is a hobby I’ll definitely continue into residency and beyond.
Leana Wen -- Third-year, Washington University School of Medicine
Dancing and laughter are my life. Medical school is stressful and threatens to consume us on a daily basis—there is always more to learn, more to read, more to do. For socially conscious students, there’s always more we can and should be doing to raise awareness and help our communities. We could always spend every spare minute volunteering for causes and reading more about our patients’ illnesses; yet, we need to make time for ourselves and the people and things that are important to us. We need to grow as people and enjoy life.
That’s why dancing is a part of my daily life. Middle Eastern dance is a beautiful and expressive art form. Originating thousands of years ago, it began as a way for women to dance with other women in celebration of their culture. Today, it is performed all over the world. My dance troupe—Flowers of the Sahara Dance Company—performs in festivals and venues across the Midwest.
No matter how much I need to study, no matter how much the culture of medicine tells me to make it an all-consuming life, I always make time to dance and laugh.
Rachel Cramton, M.D. -- Temple University School of Medicine Class of 2004
Medical students are masters of delayed gratification. It is how the majority of us got this far, and for many it is the light at the end of the tunnel. “After gross anatomy it will get better,” they tell themselves—or “Just wait until this rotation is over...” or “After graduation….” With each milestone, they move the carrot farther away, to entice themselves to stay the course.
My prescription for wellness is to stop delaying gratification. It is not a prescription I have perfected, but it is one for which I strive. Not in all things all of the time, but in most things some of the time. I didn’t wait until after medical school to work out. Instead, I rowed multiple times each week and ran the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall of my second year. I didn’t accept that I wouldn’t see the sky until after graduation, but rather I hiked, rock-climbed and gardened with my husband throughout my four years.
Most importantly, I didn’t postpone the joys of family life indefinitely. In March 2004, spring of my fourth year, I gave birth to our beautiful son, Zachary. Zac compels me to slow down, relax and enjoy the ride. Now I can say that my prescription for wellness allowed me to finish medical school with my sanity, my sense of humor and my joy intact.
Elizabeth Eaman -- Second-year, University of Michigan Medical School
There is a place I visit to remember the big picture, a place where gloomy things are thoroughly chased away. Here, there is never a wrong answer, and everything matters just enough. This place is the barn, and within it is my prescription for wellness: horses. The instant the scent of the barn hits me, everything—quite suddenly—is good. Even if it is so cold that I can’t feel my feet, and the ground is too frozen to ride, I can hold a horse’s head and let its breath warm my hands. Even if it is so hot and humid that I sweat in places that I have never sweat before, I can run my head under the hose and give a cool bath to the horse—the both of us drying in the shade.
It is a combination of things that cures me—leather, hay, horse sweat and sweet grain along with the tang of manure and wood shavings. These, to me, are the greatest smells on earth. Horses have always held a power over me. The 6-year-old girl who was a member of the My Little Pony Fan Club has grown up. She is now a 27-year-old woman who still feels like a 6-year-old when she sits in the grass in a 4-acre field with three dogs fighting for her lap and a horse nibbling on her hair. This experience—a culmination of the smells, sounds and sights of the barn—is what makes me well.
Brian Lin -- Fourth-year, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Medical students have to budget free time wisely in order to do academic and extracurricular activities justice. Thus, as a person who has always enjoyed competitive sports, recreational dancing and playing rhythm guitar, I’ve condensed all of these interests into a manageable wellness activity—the Brazilian art form Capoeira.
Rumored to be developed by captive slaves as a means of defying Portuguese slave traders, Capoeira has been alternately described as a dance and a martial art. It incorporates elements of physical conditioning, music and Brazilian culture. In many ways it has complemented my study of medicine, helping me to achieve a type of wellness that serves me on and beyond the wards. Performing in competitions requires split-second decision-making and creative application of an armament of movements in order to escape an incoming kick or takedown. On the wards, being quick on one’s feet and clear in one’s thinking are valuable skills when interviewing a complicated patient or responding to an overzealous attending.
Capoeira has been a social support for me as well—the great friends I have made have served as buoys when I feel I’m drowning in the sea of medical school. Finally, it has given me confidence in facing everyday challenges. In Capoeira and in medical problem-solving, one faces challenges head-on, approaching each turn in the circle with finesse and style in the hope that somehow, in the end, we can make it all seem graceful.
Monya De -- Fourth-year, University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine
Dancing—whether I’m using my right brain in lessons to learn new steps or enjoying a night out with friends dancing to big-band standards—is the ultimate release. For me, it represents fun, exercise, precious time with friends, laughter, music and mental release. It’s a mini-vacation from the stresses of medical school and the time that I reconnect with the real world through such nonmedical school friends as the one in the picture. Dance keeps me energized and lets me be a regular girl in her mid-20s once in a while, instead of the perpetually serious medical student. It’s made me a happier person and has added a treasured dimension to my four years here.
Erin Elizabeth McConnell -- Third-year, Wright State University School of Medicine
Chemical class: Felinus
Therapeutic Class: Anxiolytic
DEA Class: Schedule I
Mechanism of Action: Acts to release innate endorphins, decreasing central nervous system overstimulation and reducing pre-exam anxiety
Indications and uses: Prescribed specifically for students approaching any of the United States Medical Licensing Examinations; *general stress management, *unconditional acceptance, *study companion and *overall diversion from testable material
Henry: 4.54 kg of white-and-brown tabby, prn
Kali: 5.90 kg of brown tabby, prn
Precautions: Highly addictive; withdrawal symptoms include a pervading feeling of sadness when deprived of this therapy, rapid petting motions of inanimate objects, cooing at veritable strangers, as well as leaving one’s honeymoon early due to lack of sufficient treatment
Contraindications: Allergic rhinitis in the presence of domestic animals
Side Effects/Adverse Reactions
CNS: Pleasant distraction from all studies and other dreaded obligations, sedative response due to interaction with either variety, may increase sleep due to the
somnolence exhibited by both varieties of medication
RESP: Possible suffocation due to the Kali variety sitting on one’s trachea at 4:30 a.m. in the hope of procuring an early breakfast
HEME: Eosinophilic proliferation in the slightly or severely allergic
SKIN: Local wheal and flare reaction, due to the saliva of either the Henry or Kali variety of medication when it attempts to mark the patient as its own
* = non-FDA approved usages
(Drug reference format adapted from
Mosby’s Medical Drug Reference, 2005 edition.)
David Moskowitz -- Fourth-year, University of Washington School of Medicine
To stay balanced requires getting out to the mountains: hitting the trails, be it in hiking boots or snowshoes. I saved a rock that I found on the top of a mountain that I had hiked with some friends during the spring of my first year of medical school. I had just finished final exams and was so taken by that place. I was reminded of the parts of me that bring meter to my logical scientific mind. I toss that stone in my bag with my stethoscope, PDA and clipboard sometimes to find it in the middle of a busy clinic day. It reminds me to head out soon and find wild places, and to draw inspiration from author Edward Abbey as well as from Dr. William Osler.