bear to bruin: struggle olympics

“Although our closets vary tremendously, the experience of coming out of the closet is universal.. Inside the dark, you can’t tell what color the walls are. You just know what it feels like to be in a closet. So really, my closet is no different than yours, or yours. Sure, I’ll give you a hundred reasons why coming out of my closet was hard, but hard is not relative – hard is hard. There is no harder, there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard and just commiserate on the fact that we all experience hard.No matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live.”

Though her main point is about the difficulty of having hard conversations, the point that I want to emphasize is that instead of spending our energy topping someone else’s bad day with our own sob story, let’s just stop participating in the struggle olympics. Something I realized in dental school is that no patient, no friend, no family member (unless they are a dentist themselves) can fully understand our struggle. According to an article from the Boston Globe, “Empathy Gap in Medical Students“, the overwhelming amount of stress inhibits medical students’ ability to remain empathetic toward their patients. Though “empathy is the cornerstone to the doctor-patient relationship”, empathy scores when recorded at a student’s first year until their fourth year – dropped significantly in a med student’s 3rd year of school. Empathy is essential because patient outcomes are drastically improved when a patient can sense how much their doctors care.

As healthcare providers, we have to conserve that empathy for our patients. ¬†Because when your patient sits in your chair, your focus needs to be your patient’s needs, 100%. It doesn’t matter that you’ve hard a really hard day and you’re tired – you still need to give your best effort in providing excellent care to your patient. In a profession where prevention can so profoundly affect health outcomes, it is absolutely necessary that we express empathy for our patients.

This post isn’t at all meant to tout complaining as some horrible thing; I believe complaining is a necessary way of relieving stress, and in all honesty, one of the strongest ways for classmates to connect through shared experiences. My point is that as we continue on as students, we can practice empathy – learn to absorb another’s strife when it is presented to us, and respond with comfort and empathy – rather than turning the spotlight on ourselves.

As a friend pointed out, this is one of the many things that is much easier in theory than in practice. So maybe the next time someone tells you about their bad day, practice active listening. Before seeing your next patient, take a couple moments to breathe, and physically smile to yourself! Lately, I’ve been trying to practice a more selfless attitude, and not being caught up in your own drama helps you realize how small it truly is.

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