No-Trad Pre-Med advice on mental health

Hi, I am Alexis I am an advanced emergency medical technician (AEMT). I have been in EMS since I was 17 and have been doing it for over five years now. I was planning on staying in EMS because I didn’t feel qualified to become an MD but have decided I am going to go for it. But the question I have is that I have obtained some mental health diagnoses in the last several years that have come to light since being in EMS. While I have gotten the treatment that I need and have started to be on the other side of it. I feel there is a stigma that I won’t be able to maintain my mental health and continued to care for myself while working towards my Pre Med. I was wondering if anyone else has any advice on this topic of mental health and making sure that you don’t slip backward while going forwards with your pre-med journey. The diagnosis has been present since I was a child but only within the last three years gotten help. I worked several twenty-four-hour shifts in a row due to finances and personal situations which probably only help to create the perfect storm to require me to obtain help. But I have learned that in order to take care of others I have to take care of myself first. But does anyone have any advice on how to maintain your mental health and keep from having any relapses while working towards medical school?

I’m happy you figured so much out and have gotten useful help that has led you to a healthier place. With that, I am happy that you’ve learned to take care of yourself, which is actually my advice. I know, it probably sounds like a paradox, so I’ll try to do my best to explain what I mean.

Whether you go about the path to med school through a specific program and advising sessions or you take a more individually crafted path with asynchronous learning, forums, and healthcare providers you know, you’re very likely to hear over and over again, even from people who have no direct experience, how difficult things are/will be and how much sacrifice you’ll have to make. In my experience, people love to tell you how much you will need to study, what you’ll need to sacrifice, and what else you can and cannot do.

The fact of the matter is that nobody else knows what makes your feet move in the morning. Sure, it’s a great idea to carefully craft a study schedule and study habits and to seek various opportunities to build your resume and recommendations, but that must be done in a way that fits you, not “the model.” You learn better and stay healthier if you build in breaks and continue to have fun or do things you enjoy, so don’t allow others to burden you with guilt for including enjoyable things in your schedule (especially since they’ll often sell you on potentially harmful coping mechanisms at the same time: “You can’t watch Netflix while you’re in med school! … You deserve a drink after a hard exam!”).

This is a bit of an off-topic example, but I had a doctor once who told me that I shouldn’t drink juice because of how much better water is for me. Water and I have a bad relationship, so when I tried to switch fully to water, I went down to drinking maybe a glass of liquid a day. It wasn’t until I threw out the “no juice” advice and compromised in a way that would actually work for me that I began drinking a healthy amount of water and juice. Likewise, a therapist once told me that, in her grad program, sometimes the only way she could study was to promise herself dessert at the end. Exercising in the gym after graduation would be hard, sure, but worth making it through her program.

I’ve given you a long response just to say that you can hold (and I think would benefit from holding) on to some things that are currently important to your self care. Take note of what they are before you begin so you don’t lose sight of them and have to figure it out from a rough patch. Even now, in an SMP, I’m studying or in class most waking hours, but I still take my sabbath, which I’ve found very refreshing since grad school. I still make the most of the other 6 days, but I’m making my schedule work for me.

I hope that helped.

Hi Alexis,

Thank you for bringing this up. As someone in a similar position, my best advice is to make small steps and see how you’re doing. For example, I started small and shadowed while working my job. Then I started taking a few courses while making sure I was maintaining my health and wellness. Since I was okay with those steps, I applied for a post bacc. I’m now in my second year of taking 4/5 heavy science courses per semester. I think if you take on too much too quickly, there’s a potential to set yourself up for a large mental health set-back.

My best advice is go slow and be honest with yourself about what you think you can handle/ what is best for you. If you feel MD training and career will put your mental health too much at risk, there are many other careers in the medical field to explore!

Best of Luck