Community: an Antidote to the Medical School Vacuum

Nathan Stacy, M1, Class of 2022

Do any of you feel a little bit…empty in medical school? If you don’t, you should read this anyways. But if so, you are definitely not alone. In fact, you have that in common with a majority of your fellow mid-20’s millennials. Referring to this time as a ‘quarter life crisis’ is no longer tongue-in-cheek. While we are accomplishing tasks, deepening our medical knowledge, and strengthening our resumes, there are many questions that can bubble up under the surface of this busyness: Is all of this worth it? Will it provide me a fulfilling and sustaining life? What do I have outside of medicine?

I often feel a pull to ignore these questions, and to define myself fully by the A and B week cycle. And it’s so easy to do that! No one questions you if you say “sorry, I can’t make it tonight, I’ve got to study.” It’s damn near expected in our little sub culture that we won’t have time for anything other than medical school. I remember our first week here, with administrators telling us to inform friends that we will rarely be able to hang out. We even had a seminar for parents and significant others to inform them of our hectic schedules. This subculture is set up to have everything inside of medical school, and nothing outside of medical school.

I believe this is unhealthy. We absolutely require community to have meaningful lives. We may find pieces of that in our small groups and in our KU organizations, but we require a broader community than just medical school. The final answer does not lie within the medical school subculture.  We need more than that – a community structure that is focused outward, that provides substance and connection outside the 4 walls of the HEB. What we need is a rooted community.

What do I mean by “rooted community?” I mean multiple things: investing in our local community, increasing the amount of relationships that are tied to place, expanding our activities beyond the one-thingism of medical school. In practice, this can look like consistent, weekly volunteerism. It can be participating in a bowling league with your med school friends. It could be joining a church, if you are religiously inclined. Or something as simple as knocking on the door of your neighbor and saying hi. Anything to build bonds to both place and people.

It’s so easy to go through medical school without putting down any roots. In fact, I bet many would say its just good sense. Why invest in a local community when we won’t be here long? I will be moving to Wichita in approximately 16 months. I will live there for 2 years, at most, and move again during residency. I will spend 3-5 years in residency, and probably move again for my job. An additional move for a fellowship is a possibility. We are all in similar positions – we are a very mobile group. However, a quote from Ben Sasse always pops in my head when I think about this: “Commit anyway, and act as if your body is going to end up in the place where you are. Eventually, you’ll be right.”

I’ll tell a little anecdote to end this post. I was having dinner with my parents on Sunday, and the discussion turned to the long-time pastor of our church, Nanette. Nanette had told us about moving into a new neighborhood – within a few weeks of moving she had met all of her neighbors, formed new friendships, and, with the authenticity and ever-readiness of a great pastor, invited them all to church. We all agreed that having a neighbor like Nanette would be awesome – someone who would go out of her way to have a conversation with you, someone who you could count on to help you if you need it, someone who truly wants to build community with you and knows you. The question left unasked was this: Why can’t we all be that neighbor? It’s challenging. It can be uncomfortable. But everyone is happier and more fulfilled for it.

The emptiness is not preordained. It is not a requirement of medical school. It is the result of choices, conscious and unconscious, that we make every day. The more that we engage in activities that build our community, the more our worth will be determined outside of medical school. And the happier we will be for it.

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