During medical student orientation this summer, several sessions took place where current students shared their experience trying to balance the rigor of medical school with other challenges like living far from family for the first time, being in a committed relationship and setting aside time to unwind.
For many, dealing with such factors can be a huge strain on well-being and mental health, said Beverly Dede, PhD, the College of Medicine’s medical student counselor.
“Medical students were likely at the top of their class in their undergraduate programs, so they’re used to performing well academically,” she said. “If they struggle with the rigorous material in med school, they’re not used to being the ones asking for help.”
But she said increased conversations about mental health and wellness are helping to deflate the negative stigma of asking for help with problems like depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder — all common reasons students attend her 50-minute, short-term counseling sessions.
Second-year medical student Nazaree Edwards first started visiting Dede in the Office of Student Counseling and Development during his first year of medical school in 2019.
He had recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend, struggled to be away from family and coped with challenges in unhealthy ways. His pain began to reflect itself in his grades, with failed exam scores.
“You have a general understanding of what you can do and what you’re capable of, and I could see that I was just missing something, that I was a little off,” he said.
After a meeting with the Academic Status Committee, Edwards determined his best course of action was to take a year off from medical school.
“I was very nervous and hesitant to take time off,” he said. “But I was assured that my spot would be here waiting for me when I was ready to come back.”
In late July, Edwards shared his story with the class of 2025 to demonstrate the impact of open dialogue and transparency in asking for help when you need it. He said he now copes with difficult emotions by talking with a close friend about his thoughts or journaling about them. He also likes to stay connected to nature by taking walks outside or getting lost in a good book.
“It’s important to check in with yourself,” Edwards said. “Ask yourself how you’re doing and be honest with yourself. We are humans before we are students. We need to make sure we’re in the best position to be here.”
This story originally ran in the Winter 2021 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.