Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Laura Turner
During my wedding reception when the dance floor was full, multi-colored lights were flashing, and the music was at its highest energy, I stood next to the DJ booth and found myself just watching. The DJ enthusiastically told me to get out there and have fun, but I just wanted a minute to take in the scene. In that moment, I thought back to the time of my very first week of medical school.
Before my medical training, I had lived in southern California my entire life and was lucky to be accepted by the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. The thing was, I had absolutely no ties to the state at all. I was going to move there not knowing a soul—and without a single family or friend close by.
Before moving to Kentucky, I found my roommate online (being from California, we used Craigslist back then to find everything from a couch to a roommate). I ended up stumbling across a posting —a Master’s student who also ran Human Resources at a local tire store needed someone to live with. As soon as I moved to Kentucky, she introduced me to her circle of friends and invited me to dinners, parties, and bars every time they went out. It was nice to be able to meet people in careers other than medicine. Sometimes you just want to have a conversation about something besides patients! To this day, she and the wonderful people I met through her are some of my dearest friends. Having a roommate outside of medicine also eased the anxiety of being completely lonely for four years, even before starting medical school.
A week before the first orientation day, I looked at the class roll sheet that listed all of my fellow medical students’ names and their undergraduate schools. I immediately noticed that it seemed like 85% had all gone to the University of Kentucky for undergrad. Terror quickly overtook me–were all of these undergrad comrades going to be one big clique? That first day of orientation, we broke into groups and played ice breaker games. I took a deep breath and immediately took the lead and started introducing myself to everyone. Despite my apprehension earlier, everyone I met was outgoing, welcoming, and friendly no matter where their undergraduate campus was. Eventually the conversation led to studying habits, and I said yes to joining two different study groups that day. I ended up not only learning multiple styles of reviewing class material, but I also became close to more people this way.
My father was in town that first week of medical school to help me settle in. Because of that, I didn’t attend any of the social events in the evenings because I wanted to spend time with him. When my dad left for the airport, I found myself feeling utterly alone and desolate. Earlier that day, a classmate encouraged me to come out to the local dueling piano bar where our medical school was holding an event. So I pulled myself together and made it to the bar. That night, I connected with three people that are still some of my best friends today. We actually still even laugh thinking back to the events that night. And even though we have lived in separate states the past 6 years, I have seen all of these girls multiple times a year throughout all of residency.
From then on, I continued to attend social events. In the first two years, our medical school class had get togethers after every exam, and no matter how exhausted I was from all that studying and lack of sleep, I always made the time to attend. Over time and during the clinical rotation years, we had fewer social gatherings because we were busier and drained from the longer hours, but I continued to make the effort to see everyone. It’s always difficult to find that energy after a long day when all you want to do is sit in your pajamas and watch Netflix! But I did find that I never regretted the time spent with my friends and classmates. My greatest memories with them were better than any I would have made at home by myself.
If you are like me and you are headed to a place for school where you have never lived before, you may be understandably concerned about making friends. But saying yes when you can, creating time even if your schedule gets tight, and trying to meet others outside of medical school certainly helps. You’ll find that making that extra effort will definitely set you up to form incredible lifelong friendships.
That night, a week after my medical school graduation, as I watched the friends I made over my years in Kentucky own the dance floor at my wedding, a wave of sadness washed over me, since I knew I may not get to see all of them as much anymore. But when they all caught sight of me and waved me over to join, I was overcome with joy—I felt so lucky to just have had the great opportunity to have ever met them at all.
Karen Tran-Harding MD is a Radiology physician at the University of California, Irvine who is back home after 10 years of medical training in Kentucky. You can find her at howtheothersidethinks.com.