How to Build a Support System in Medical School
Getting through medical school is a lot easier and more enjoyable if you have a strong support system. Support systems in med school are even more important, because when you go through a tough period (and you will!) then your support system will provide you with someone to turn to for help and advice.
If you’re attending medical school in or near your hometown or where you went to college, you may already have family members and friends nearby, which is a good thing. If you do relocate to an area where you know few or no people, finding a group to provide support and friendship is even more crucial.
Regardless of whether you have some friends or relatives nearby, being a med student is a unique experience, so building a network of peers and mentors who are in the midst of/have been through the same thing is also important.
How to build friendships in medical school
Your classmates are the most obvious place to look to form friendships, but don’t expect these relationships to materialize without your putting in some effort. During orientation week, you get to know some of your fellow students before everyone becomes preoccupied with school, so make a point to reach out early on to people you want to know better.
Some of the more socially driven members of the class usually take the initiative to organize group outings, and taking part in these events gives you the opportunity to spend time with your classmates in a context outside of school. If no one else is stepping up to get things going, take on the task yourself.
Even if you don’t find people you click with at first, don’t give up. Eventually, you’re likely to find a group that you fit in well with and may even end up meeting people in med school who are destined to become your lifelong friends.
Because much of your time in medical school revolves around studying after classes get underway, many friendships are built through meeting to do things like review drug interactions or biochemical pathways. Studying with a group at least occasionally gives you a change of pace and allows you to mix in some socialization with work.
Students in the years ahead of you are an excellent source of friendship and support as well. Some schools match each first-year student with a second-year who acts as a big sibling in navigating through med school.
The trials of first year are fresh in the minds of second-year students, so they can tell you what to expect at each stage as they make their way through med school one step ahead of you.
When to turn to medical school resources
If you need help with something and aren’t sure where to go, the student affairs office is a good place to start. A medical school’s student affairs office provides guidance for academic and student life issues such as scheduling rotations, arranging for electives, and finding research opportunities.
The student affairs office can also provide support and connect a student to resources if she’s having academic or personal difficulties. The student affairs office often organizes and runs orientation, so you’ll probably meet the staff during that event.
Another source of guidance to you as a med student is your faculty advisor. At some schools, advisors are assigned at the beginning of first year, whereas others wait until the clinical years to provide an advisor.
Advisors function as mentors, helping students to forge their paths professionally through discussions about topics such as which electives to choose, activities to pursue, and specialty to select. If your advisor is an attending physician, she’s been through every step of the medical education process, so she can help you see the big picture even when you’re caught up in the details of passing the next exam.
Some students wait until they’re struggling very significantly to get help — or never ask for help at all. Med schools are filled with independent-minded high achievers who are used to succeeding at everything they attempt and who may be uncomfortable asking for assistance. However, problems are much easier to solve when they’re smaller, so act early if you’re having difficulty academically or otherwise.
Most people find it easier to seek assistance from someone they already have a working relationship, so take a few minutes to drop by the student affairs office occasionally to check out what it offers or just chat with the staff. Meet with your advisor on a regular basis even if you don’t need help with a specific issue.
Most, if not all, med schools have a mechanism through which students can receive confidential counseling for mental health issues. If you’re having a tough time coping with med school or have other emotional or personal issues that you prefer not to share with the school’s faculty or staff, you can get assistance while maintaining your privacy by going through the counseling service.