Emily Casteen, M1, Class of 2026
The blizzard smothered the squeaky old subway as it slowly pressed toward the station. Nighttime had arrived, and the darkness was brightened only by a bit of shimmer from the ice and snow that stubbornly prevailed against any shovel. I rested against my cold, hardened seat, ready to enter this frosty wonderland with a new sense of excitement; I was going somewhere new. Comfortable in my alone-ness, I was quickly awakened from this slumber as I exited the station. I was lost in the city with every street sign covered in a white blanket that chilled me to my core.
Not long later, a shadow made itself out to be a friendly face, a fellow lost traveler. “Where’s the door?!” she shouted, her voice rising above the gusts. Traversing together, we found not only the door but also a piping hot pizza waiting for us inside; we had finally arrived. Thawed by the pepperoni and the conversations of those around me, I warmed up to folks who would become close friends—the kind that have you over for dinner and make their home your home—and experienced the deepest joy as I opened my life up to these new people.
This is one moment of many that I experienced the first few months I lived in Boston, where I moved after college not knowing a single person. I was prepared for this—as an only child without any cousins, I was independent and even considered myself resilient, capable of overcoming whatever challenges I would face. Of course I prioritized my friendships in college, but as I encountered the stress of a new job and MCAT studying, seeking out social connections was put on the back burner. At the same time, I noticed slowly, and sometimes acutely, that my wellbeing was melting away. I needed others to flourish.
In Arthur Brooks’ column “How to Build A Life” in The Atlantic, he cites a study that found that friendship accounted for nearly 60% differences in happiness between individuals, regardless of introversion or extroversion (Demir & Weitekamp, 2007). Interestingly, the number of friends did not need to be high but did need to include individuals outside of a spouse or partner. Brooks acknowledges that cultivating deep friendships that allow for difficult conversations, vulnerability, and the “whole self” require time that can be difficult to find in with the time-demands of careers (and certainly medical school!), but deep friendships are nonetheless the most satisfying (Brooks, 2022).
Notably, friendship also appears to be specifically important for medical student well-being; one study cited friendships to be among the top three most important factors for maintaining wellness (Chatterjee et al., 2022).
As medical students, there are many worthy things that compete for our time. Studies, research, volunteering, and extracurriculars are demanding. This first semester, I definitely struggled with balance. However, I am also grateful for the time spent getting to know members of my small group and other students in my class. Football games, field day, and brunches not only provided a much-needed academic break but also deepened my understanding of my peers and how we could best support each other. Moving into next semester, I look forward to continuing to develop these connections (board game night, anyone?!).
As I return to that snowy scene outside the subway, I also think of a much sunnier day about a week later. Anne and I met in a park with hands full of hot tea and excitement as we found things in common. Both only children, we both moved to new cities after college and were interested in delving into spirituality and reading as ways of understanding life’s deeper questions. Over the next three years, Anne became one of my best friends. She baked me chocolate cookies before my MCAT exam, and I made homemade popcorn on movie nights with our friend group. We dived headfirst together into the highs and lows of our 20s—navigating career decisions, relationships, and living far away from family—one cup of hot tea at a time. While these conversations look different over our regular zoom calls, I found what I didn’t even know I was looking for in Boston: a life-long friend.
Perhaps an important note to end on is a bit of thinking about how to grow friendships. I am sure much has been written on this, but for me personally, I have found two things most helpful: cultivating trust and respect. As doctors in training, these principles will certainly apply to our professional relationships as we collaborate with other health professionals. Teamwork is central to providing the best care to our patients. Yet I think trust and respect can also be catalysts for growing friendships with those around us, especially as we navigate the landscape of medical school and all that lies before us.
I’m so grateful that we don’t journey alone!
Brooks, A. C. (2022, April 7). The best friends can do nothing for you. The Atlantic. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/04/deep-friendships-aristotle/618529/
Chatterjee, Krishanu, et al. “Medical Students Describe Their Wellness And How To Preserve It.” (2022).
Demir, M., & Weitekamp, L. A. (2007). “I am so happy cause today I found my friend: Friendship and personality as predictors of happiness”: Erratum. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being, 8(2), 213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9034-1