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How To Overcome Adversity in Professional School

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

After coming home from a long day at the library studying for my cardiology exam, I get a phone call from my sister. “Hey,” she said. “Grandmother is in the hospital. Can you come home this weekend?” Great, I thought. Not this again.
I was barely beginning to cope with the loss of my dad over eight years ago, and barely staying afloat in medical school because of it. I had failed my first medical course, anatomy, during my first year and just spent a tough summer trying to remediate it, as my other friends went off traveling or spending time at home with their families. Now, my grandmother was a piece of my childhood that I was about to lose and I had no idea how to prepare for it.

Throughout my four years of medical school, I found myself going through a lot more adversity than I had anticipated. After my grandmother passed during second year, I had an eye surgery called Implantable Collamer Lenses or ICL. Permanent contact lenses were implanted in both my eyes, as I had extremely severe myopia. I was told the recovery time was two weeks maximum, but my body took longer to adjust to the lens, and it actually took me about two months to recover fully. During that time, I had intermittent blurry vision, worsening of my chronic dry eyes, and in general increasing fatigue whenever I tried to study for long hours on end. My vision eventually stabilized, but I still struggle with my vision to this day as it is not completely corrected.
At the end of my second year, I failed my Level 1 COMLEX boards and subsequently, failed my Level 2 COMLEX boards and had to remediate both. The month before my Level 2 COMLEX boards, I began to suffer from headaches of unknown etiology, which I had to go to the Emergency Room for. Afterwards, I began to take many medications for my headaches, most of them in the NSAID category. I was diagnosed with a mixed picture of possible sinusitis, temporal, and migraine headaches. Having no time to schedule a neurologist appointment, I took many NSAIDS and other medications leading up to my Level 2 test. On my actual exam day, I began to suffer from rebound headaches that were extremely severe in nature and caused nausea and visual changes. Needless to say, at that point, I felt no longer confident nor hopeful in my future in medicine.
All of my life, I have always depended on one thing: diligence. I just listed out all my adversities but along with them comes an unrelenting work ethic that may be altered or slightly damaged, but still there. It is no secret that every medical student struggles, and I would never discount someone else’s struggles for mine. But I also would never discount my struggles for anything less than what they have turned me into today. As a fourth year applying to family medicine, I have only received six interviews thus far and am still awaiting my score of the retake of my Level 2 Exam. We all know the reality of it and although it is hard to accept, as a good friend of mine would say, “it is what it is.” But is that any reason to lose all hope? The optimist in me (and yes it is still there), will say definitely not. As much as I have been beaten and bruised, I am here, alive and breathing. When I step back and look at it, that is an incredible feeling in itself.
So, how did I deal with everything? The hardest part for me about all of this was opening up to my family. I never want my mom to worry and it was always easier to do things independently. But when I finally did tell her, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Although she may not understand fully and we both have our differences regardless, I knew the support and love was there. Finding a close friend to open up to was another tricky issue. Most, if not all of my friends seemed to be adapting to everything much better than I was. I always wondered if I would be judged or would someone like me less if they knew how much I was struggling. But, fortunately for me, I am incredibly lucky to have friends who are completely understanding and supportive. Some of them have even struggled similarly to me but have never mentioned it before. Try to open up to those around you and you may be surprised with how you can connect with others in a way that not only makes you a stronger person, but may also end up helping someone else out as well.
My school offers many resources for those who are facing adversity in the midst of medical school. It did not work for me personally, but I know it works for others, depending on the situation. What did work for me however, was finding a faculty member–whether part of the pre-clinical department or clinical department–that could not only answer all your questions, but also offer support. Whether connecting with a school-assigned advisor or connecting with someone through the grapevine, I have been able to find genuine faculty members that I could connect with and get advice from. To sum it up, my best piece of advice is talk to people and ask around. Do not close up, do not shut yourself in, and do not be afraid to talk to someone. You deserve the support regardless of what you are going through or what you have done. As a medical student, it is easy to forget that part of the journey is a learning process, and I do not just mean learning all the medical knowledge you can. It is learning about yourself, what matters to you, what drives you, and most importantly, what you can learn from your experiences.
Lastly, the most important thing is to never forget the little things. Is there a hobby you enjoyed before school but let it die off you started? Pick it up again and find some solace in it. Have you been studying for twelve hours on end and tired of it? Take a walk outside. Spend time with the people that matter the most to you, because those are the people that will help through whatever you are going through. As for my story, I know I made some mistakes along the way, but like I said, it is all a learning process. I know that life happens sometimes, and when you try to control life with all your might, sometimes things can unravel and you become lost. Always find your way back. Find your purpose for doing what you do and never stop dreaming. You are worth it, and you deserve the opportunity to better yourself and do something great. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without lost of enthusiasm”. It will all turn out okay in the end. If it is not okay, then it is not the end.