Soterday| 2019-10-26 Lovász Kolos

Burnout – Apathy and 6 years of suffering from an insider’s perspective

Now that we’re at the dawn of the new curriculum reform it might be a good time to glimpse into the syllabus of the sixth year and into the years of exam experience; as a sneak peek for the newest freshmen to show them what they can expect in the future and as an attempt to make our peers in the years higher up smile by bringing up some well-known recurring patterns.

I still remember how I started my nursing practice, so full of joy after having completed the first year successfully – as a med student, this was the time when the first ’doctor’ – patient meetings took place. This was the time when we watched the ultrasound scans with such interest, with our anatomy knowledge still fresh, when we kept asking the young doctors, full of enthusiasm, what they were doing. Even then we could already see that they were missing that fervor that we still possessed. I still remember this certain conversation: I was talking with a doctor about choosing a carrier path and about how his sibling had just had his high school finals. I asked him if his sibling was going to be a doctor, just like his brother. His answer was ’Nah, he knows better than that.’. 😊 I didn’t understand what he meant back then but now I do. 60 months of studying, heaps of exams, research and a huge workload during the semester and the result- to quote the classics: your salary is lower than that of a shelf stocker at ALDI.

But back to the exams! The idea this article grew out of was born on July 15th, 2019: that was the first day back in school for the six year students. It was just 2 short weeks after our last exams (3-4 weeks for the luckier ones). (Resident doctors are entitled to 21 days of time off, med students should be happy if they get 7-14 days of summer break.) The doctors who’d graduated last year had already taken off for ’the Seychelle islands’ while those 450 students moved into the NET building that looks like it’d been half bombed to the ground with all that construction work… That was only the beginning, of course; a week later the clinical rotations started. The sun was shining bright outside, it was over 30°C, the city was empty and you could only get to the university by buses that operated based on a different, summer schedule (we’ll get back to that). A few days later you realize that the fact that it’s still summer and you just really don’t want to open up a textbook is just one thing; but the finals are also coming and you’ll have to take the board exam in the spring too, there’s just no way around that, so you really should get started and pick that incredibly thick book up (past papers for the more adventurous souls).

Just to compare: I probably had pretty much the same feeling back in the summer exam period of the second year, except I wasn’t burned out back then, and if we just look at the sheer number of pages in the textbooks, a physiology book is about 300 pages, whereas the surgery and OB/GYN books are about 6-700 pages on the average, not to mention the internal med textbook recommended by the university, that’s two full on volumes, just to begin with.

And then comes the part where you risk going on social media and you either see graduation pictures of your friends or, since it is just about to turn August after all, pictures of your friends on vacation, as mentioned before. And then it’s the last week right before the exam: it’s still well into summer, August 20th is coming up and so is the long weekend along with it, and you’re just about to have an exam. You know you can forget about the Festival of Crafts or the fireworks and that you can say good bye to your circadian rhythm but the best part is that your next clinical block practice is already starting next week, meaning your only time to recharge is the weekend. If you pass the exam you can check in on social media again and you’ll get to watch a livestream from freshman camp (while you’re supposed to be studying) or if you need a smile after all that suffering there’s the solution to all things sad- SOTE meme 😊

But a determined senior would never give up: if he finally has an afternoon off between two final exams he uses it to do some research and his motivation never wavers- fine, it really does sometimes, but he gets over it because he knows his research will bear fruit in the end: he’ll either end up with a great thesis and/or his work might help drive humankind forward.

Conclusion: during his 6 years at uni (including during his exams, especially in the first few years) a med student is bombarded with stimuli that prepare him/her for the hardships of life (this is what sociologists call hidden curriculum); these experiences are later continued on with the sight of fresh cadavers in pathology class, so that later on it might be just a bit easier to examine a terminally ill patient in the internal med ward.

As for the general mood –as the finals are approaching that damn burnout and apathy really make an appearance and the suffering reaches new heights; but it’s still followed by that joy: we did it, we survived yet another challenge. After the state exams, once they finally become doctors, the ex-students are looking forward to residency and to helping as many people as they can. Cliché but true: even though the road leading to our goals is rocky, we did choose the most amazing profession; we should never give up!

P.S. A couple tips for dealing with burnout: stay active at uni- and I don’t mean getting straight As – use your knowledge! And not just in the booksmart way. Student research is the best way to learn the theoretical parts, whereas clinical work and doctor-patient meetings are the best way to familiarize yourself with the clinical subjects. But, most importantly- and I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before- don’t give up on your hobbies! To put it simply, if you only focus on studying, you’re bound to go insane. Take advantage of the opportunities provided by the school: you can choose from a number of different sport trainings, you can join the med students’ band if you’re a musician or you can perform at the spring festival where you can show off even your dancing or recitation skills. Or (this is the time for promotion): join Szinapszis and write an article!