They told you it would be hard. They say it will be worth it. They didn’t tell you just how lonely it would be.
It’s one ‘clock in the morning and the only thing you hear are the crickets outside your bedroom window. There’s an occasional noisy car that passes by but ultimately you are all alone, it’s just you and your thoughts. For the first time in a day of calamity, things are finally silent, and your evening is just beginning.
Even when the physical loneliness has again been replaced with the activities of “a normal day,” which includes hours of lecture, small group sessions, simulated patient encounters, phone calls and texts with family and friends, there’s still a loneliness. Truth be told, it’s a select few that understand the journey you are on, the stress, demand, and sacrifice required.
Many will try and relate through analogy or scenario in hopes of gaining the slightest of views into your world but will fall short. This experience is unlike any other, and often falls victim to silence. No words descriptive enough to captivate what you see and do. No emotions accurate enough nor easily expressed.
It’s loneliness that no one talks about and that few bare witness. It’s loneliness when even the most supportive of family and friends have long closed their eyes for the evening and are dreaming about tomorrow, when you find yourself still up digesting the day’s lecture material. It’s loneliness when your body is in one place but your mind another, thinking about a life you could be living as you look at Facebook or Instagram of your friend’s getting married, buying houses, and having babies. It’s loneliness when you look towards the next few years through a lens of flexibility because the intricacies of your life goal do not lend itself to a life of rooted stability.
It’s the path we’ve chosen. The goals we’ve set. One might say, we knew what we were signing up for when we decided to go into this profession, but I would refute such a statement. This is the part that gets buried by platitudes and overshadowed by achievements. It’s the part we try and overlook out of fear of clouding our focus and fixating on the negative, yet it’s one of the necessary portions of this journey to learn how to manage. Do we do ourselves and those deciding upon this career a disservice by shielding them from knowing this loneliness before their feet are firmly planted in the bubble or does painting an accurate picture yield a more informed and prepared individual?
For those that have dreamed of medicine their entire life, I doubt speaking of loneliness will derail their pursuits. Yet in shedding light on such an important aspect, experienced by so many, we bring out of the shadows a sentiment that without provision can take hold of even the brightest, dampen their shine and rob us all of the potential they bring towards the advancement of our profession.
J.P. Scott is a non-traditional third year medical student. He has a Biology degree from Boston College and a master’s degree in Neuroscience from The University of Hartford. He is a published researcher having worked at The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the laboratory of Dr. Maureen E. Murphy, Ph.D. Prior to medical school, he worked as an adjunct professor of anatomy and physiology. He is passionate about topics such as mental health and hopes to work with children as a practicing physician.