How to stop avoiding what scares you | a Perspective of a Medical Student

During Medical School, we get involved in Clerkships, Electives and Rotations. All of them are a kind of internship at any medical facility (mostly hospitals) in which we usually draw blood from patients, insert cannulas, admit patients, take ECGs and measure blood pressures, check vital signs and shadow at rounds (answering rapid questions from doctors). Back at my second year in 2016 (where we are officially were allowed to take internships) lots of my fellow medical students were super excited to attend their first experiences as an intern, striving for to put everything they learned in two whole years into action. I on the other hand was terrified.

From a very young age, I always used to be afraid of failing, but also of not being perfect at the tasks I had to accomplish. Starting with med school, I quickly learned that being a perfectionist in the sense of avoiding something I haven’t had a lot of practice in yet was not helpful at all. In fact, that behavior I taught myself over the years was not only not helpful but also super harmful for my mental health. Having multiple oral exams at school where inpatient professors throw questions at you, expecting getting a perfectly fine answer within seconds, taught me that I don’t actually have time to overthink my answer just because I’m not sure it will be the perfect one. It was much more tolerated to hear a wrong answer then hearing silence, even if that was just for a couple of seconds.

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While a lot of my colleagues started their first internship experiences right after second year, I did what I always used to do when I was scared of something. I avoided the situation. So while a lot of my fellow students where spending their whole summer at hospitals, I was working at my “safe” workplace I already knew for years. Finally, when third year started, I knew I had to force myself into an internship. You know, the thing with avoiding a situation is that the actual fear grows with the time you stay away of something.

One of the things which frightened me the most was drawing blood from patients. It never was about the fear of the actual process, but about the fact that we learn drawing blood on dummies and obviously not on real sick patients. So I knew, there would be a high chance that I wouldn’t be successful at that task right away. Maybe the doctors will be disappointed or annoyed of me, I’ll be an burden to them, the other students will be so much better then me. I will be the stupid one. You can probably catch the spiral thoughts I had back then. Not only was I avoiding any new situation I’d be thrown in, but I was also defining my self worth to how good I’d perform a certain skill (but that is a whole other blogpost waiting in the line). Honestly, when you overthink your actions like that, you will increase your fear and delusional thoughts of failing even more.

It took me a good year of treating my fears, seeing everything with a pinch of salt and resetting my mindset.

Play Confident to be Confident

It’s so funny how the way we speak and the words we choose on our daily life have that big of an influence on our confidence. Once I was asked by a resident if I could lay a cannula in a patients veins. I said: Yeah, I mean I could try that. She immediately reacted to that sentence. Don’t say you’ll try. Say you’ll do. Strong and willing. Even though you know in the back of your head, that you have never done something like this before or not in that frequency that would put you in a much more confident position. It really helps actually reflecting on how we use specific words. I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I used to speak like that or used the word “maybe” that often.

On another note, the patient you’ll treat will see a young person in a white coat. Nothing less. They won’t be able to know how insecure you are, how your day is going so far, how you performed a skill on the patient next door or how much experience you have – unless you’ll show them. I started to walk in patients room as if I had done that for years, introducing myself to the patient, explaining them what I wanted to do and taking my time for tasks like blood drawing. Being calm and playing confident helped me to actual feel confident and I found myself being more successful then before.

Speak

When you don’t know how to do something, ask someone. As easy as that. Take an advice from people who are much more experienced then you are (and there will always be someone). I usually get along very well with nurses. Honestly, they have so much experience and knowledge and they can be a golden source for your development as a physician. Same goes with residents, junior doctors or even your fellow student. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be willing to learn from others. You didn’t get it the first time you asked? Ask a second time. As my chief consultant at this weeks Clerkship told us, we’ve got the right to learn and to ask.

A pinch of Salt

Always remember that the way someone speaks, behaves or reacts to you is a reflection of them and not of you. In hospital day to day life, things can be hectic, frustrating and stressful. Not everything is about you and you wont be the center of the world for most of the people you’ll meet in your life. Don’t take too much too personally and try to build a protective shell around you.

Be the master of your faith

When you know that you are expected to do a certain task, for example taking blood from patients, don’t wait until someone tells you to do so. That was a huge help for me personally to overcome my fear of doing practical tasks at hospitals. I knew that usually, in the mornings, there would be a period of time that nurses would draw blood. I started to show up at the hospital way earlier then I needed, to go into the nurses room, grabbed a handful of blood draw utilities and made my way into the patients rooms, without anyone telling me to do. That way, I was forcing myself into the situation and I felt much more calm when a doctor gave me the instruction to do so during the remaining day. Same goes for being asked any questions in rounds or even in medical school during oral exams. Don’t wait until you’ve been asked, take the initiative to rise up your hand (obviously, when a fellow is being asked at a round, don’t put him/her in an even worst position with your answers. Just be respectful and thoughtful)!

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I can happily say now, that all the fears I used to have only one year ago became so much lighter. Right now, I finished a two weeks Cardiology Clerkship and currently am at my second week at a Doctors office for generell Medicine in Vienna and honesty, thinking about the person I was at my Clerkship I had last year back in February makes me realise who far I’ve come, which also makes me kinda proud. I cannot say that I’m a complete fearless, super confident person now, but I know how to deal with certain situations and how to help myself on these crazy journey of becoming a future doctor!

I hope this super long post was in any way helpful or interesting to you guys! Do you have any similar experiences, fears or concerns? And how do you deal with that? I would love to know!

Have a great day!

2 Comments

  1. Very good points! I think the playing confident to become confident really rings true. The words we use, how we perceive ourselves plays a huge role. Fake it till you make it so to say. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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