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COVID-19 UPDATE: Med students and mental health

As you’re already well aware, med school is stressful at the best of times—and these certainly aren’t the best of times. The pressure that med students find themselves under right now is exceptional, and it’s coming from all sorts of unexpected directions. Which is why, more than ever, it’s important for you to have a sense of what resources are available to help you manage and maintain your mental health.

Different cohorts, different concerns

Considering how varied a medical education can be, it’s not surprising to learn that different student populations are experiencing the radical changes imposed by the global pandemic in different ways.

First- and second-year students may have been able to transition to online learning, but being unable to interact directly with instructors and classmates can make some classes hard to manage, and leave students feeling isolated and alone. Zoom calls are great—but also depleting.

Yes, online learning fatigue is a thing.

Some third- and most fourth-year students, on the other hand, are facing the prospect of missing out on graduation—and that very important transition from student to physician. Ceremonies like graduation are often less about commemoration than they are about closure, and many students are grieving over having lost the chance to say goodbye to their peers and celebrate with loved ones. 

Third-year students (and clerks in three-year programs) in particular, are facing a unique challenge. This is the year that they’re supposed to be out in the world, experiencing medicine firsthand for the first time. But they’ve been removed from their clinical duties and there is much uncertainty about when they’ll be able to return to hospitals and clinics. And this delay has affected everything from electives to the CaRMS timetable. Students preparing for in-person interviews will now have to get ready to navigate a virtual interview platform, which has never been done on a national level before.

Different motivations, different pressures

Many med students, removed from frontline care situations, have been motivated to find new ways to help. From supporting health care practitioners with everyday errands, to 3D-printing PPEs, to tracking infections through contact tracing, medical students from across the country have been contributing in new and unexpected ways. Considering the nature of the profession they’ve chosen to dedicate their lives to, it’s not surprising that highly motivated med students have shown such empathy.

But this drive to do as much as possible isn’t always healthy. The truth is, many med students were anxious and stressed-out before the quarantine, and now that they theoretically have more time on their hands, many feel like they should be adding to an already heavy workload. Which is why it’s important to recognize that this unique period in history isn’t just an opportunity to give, but to take—take time to rest, refocus, recharge your batteries, and care for yourself.

Resources

If you’re finding yourself in need of support – whether it’s finding ways to calm your anxieties or connecting with a community of fellow students who are facing the same challenges – there are many resources available to you through the Canadian Federation of Medical Students.  

CFMS: Staying Connected During COVID is the first nationwide Facebook group for Canadian med students and is designed to foster a sense of community during this period of physical distancing. It promotes both local initiatives and national events, and delivers programming to students ranging from baking classes and yoga sessions, to fitness challenges and trivia nights. It’s all meant to boost your mood and bring you together with other students across the country.

Safe Spaces is a teleconference series, moderated by students and special guests, that offers information and insights on topics of interest to medical students—the most recent edition focused on the personal and academic challenges faced by students in light of the COVID pandemic.

Perspectives in Medicine has launched a COVID-specific series that encourages open an honest conversation among students; they can write in with their experiences during COVID, address that sentiment of the pressure to do more during this period of time.

Interested in getting involved or have any wellness-related questions or concerns? Reach out to Hayley Hill; National Officer of Wellness for the CFMS.