Don't let your Crohn's win. Beat the Crohn's.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Learning to Say No: How I manage medical school with an autoimmune disease

Let's be honest. Most people accepted to medical school are over-achievers. Not only academically inclined, they tend to be over-involved in volunteer work, leadership positions and often have TA'ed for a pre-med course or two. Pre-med students are the first to volunteer and the last to leave.

Once I found my footing in college, I became that student. I worked 15 hours a week, volunteered 10+ hours a week, worked on independent projects and carved a name for myself among the faculty. Naively, I thought medical school would be the same. Through strict lifestyle choices, I would continue to excel in every aspect while still enjoying life.

When classes began in August, I thought for sure I would be enjoying a full plate of activities by mid-September. However, tragedy struck my family at the end of August and I needed to deal with the grief of losing my brother.

As the semester continued, I kept wondering where my time went. If I was going to continue to be active in extra-curriculars, I needed to find the time to participate. After each block of exams, I told myself I would find the time in the next block. However, each exam brought on a mini-flare and I would take time afterwards to relax and bring my body back to a healthy state.

Professors and physicians continuously tell me they hope I can overcome the challenge of having a chronic disease during medical school. I didn't understand that until recently. Although I want to be heavily involved in other activities other than academics, I need realistic expectations about what my body will allow me to do. The most important part of being a doctor is learning the information that will allow me to help my patients. My experience with Crohn's disease already taught me more than any person can about interactions with patients. Right now, I need to focus on staying healthy, and doing the best I can academically.

As much as I hate to admit it, I need to say no to many more things than I can say yes to. Thankfully, I found my way into working with the CCFA on projects and another student excited to start a young adult support group. This way, I can be involved with helping others, while still finding the support I need to overcome my disease.

In a disease that is so dependent on low stress levels, I've learned to truly plan my time and understand my capabilities. Although I'm not as involved as many of my classmates outside of school activities, I have as much on my plate as my body can handle. And I'm okay with that.

Once, I thought I would be spending these four years taking Madison by storm. Now, I'm excited to continue to learn about the human body and how to make it well, along with continuing to fight for my own health. I will survive and I will become the best physician I possibly can.