It’s Real: The Sophomore Slump

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

I strolled into second year, fresh off the plane from my South American adventures and ready to hit the ground running, expecting another experience like first year. It would be smooth sailing as long as I stuck to my schedule and my friends. I was good to go. Little did I know, the “second year slump” was about to hit me like a ton of bricks. I had never before experienced such a feeling in my life—I was accustomed to challenges, pushing through whatever stood in my way, always making it through to the other side. But to be honest, few things in my prior academic experiences have challenged me as much as medical school. Before medical school, most of the challenges I faced seemed far less daunting to me than what came in the second year of medical school, even the first year of medical school. So imagine my surprise when I found myself having my first meltdown of medical school just a few weeks into my second year: Wasn’t I supposed to be good at this by now?
As much as I’d like to answer that rhetorical question with a “yes,” I can’t; and the answer doesn’t necessarily have to ring in the affirmative. Everyone goes through things at their own pace and faces different challenges at different points in their careers. I didn’t expect it to be easy per se, but I was pleasantly surprised when my first year went smoothly. This year, I’ve chosen to take part in extracurricular activities. And that, I realized, is a major source of my stress. But more about that later.
Medical school often has its students pent up in an innately high-stress environment, with interpersonal and professional tensions running naturally high—and in my class, I mean really high. Like myself, my classmates have adjusted to the rigorous environment and were beginning to show their true colors, removing their social and professional masks to reveal their humanity and true emotions, one by one. That’s when things get sticky. Every reality show out there thrives off of a small number of people in high stress environments. Medical school, I’ve found, is no different. Get a number of Type A, highly driven, highly competitive people together, force them to interact with each other daily, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for drama. Even your best friends can start to get on your nerves. This doesn’t mean you don’t care for them anymore; but rather, you just need a break to breathe, like visiting home or taking a peaceful drive to a secluded, beautiful park. I’m very lucky to attend a school located a mere two hours away from home. So I can pop in every weekend if I’d like. (Not that I would. But it’s nice to have that option.) Unlike some students that attend schools hundreds or thousands of miles away from home, I’m fortunate to visit my family and friends, and have my own little getaway shielded from all the stresses of medical school whenever my schedule allows. It’s a welcome respite from everything related to school.
I also realized that I needed a break from extracurricular activities. In college, I spent a large part of my time involved in extracurriculars. I’ve always felt the need to seek opportunities beyond schoolwork and have carried that tendency into medical school, pursuing several additional responsibilities. It piled up fast. With my schoolwork—which has greatly increased in volume and difficulty since the first year—and managing clubs and activities, I barely had time for myself. I finally saw that I was taking on way more than I could handle, and the best way to deal with all of it was to just take it one day at a time, reducing my extracurricular work load along the way. This year wasn’t going to be like last year—and that’s what makes it special in a way. I have the opportunity to separate out my experiences amid my two pre-clinical years.
All that being said, it is possible to come out of this a happier, more positive person. I always remember to indulge and give myself a “day off” once in a while. This can take whatever form works for you. For me, it’s taking one day out of the weekend to forget about school and instead spend that time with friends and family. I also found that exercise is one of my most effective and healthy coping mechanisms. If I skip a workout or eat unhealthily, I start to feel sluggish and lose motivation. Combating this very preventable process was my key! Journaling to write down experiences helped with my reflection process and really pinned down what was stressing me out. Since many of my classmates are likely in a similar boat, I realized chances are that they were probably feeling the same way. Once I started talking and opening up about my own experiences to my peers and colleagues, you wouldn’t believe how many times I heard someone exclaim, “Me too!” Grounding myself and keeping in touch with things I value most were absolutely crucial in overcoming my sophomore slump. Although what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all, with a little help, support from friends and family, and finding the direction that works for you, anyone can work through the sophomore slump! You got this.