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Expectations: the Hidden cost of Assumptions

18 Feb 2021 0 comments

As medical students, we’re placed in a unique position – viewed as some form of proto-doctor. The not-so-subtle idea that we will eventually be looking after hundreds, if not thousands of patients and their health in a near future is ever-lingering over us. For some, it’s a source of motivation and even a purpose to all the dedication and studying that this career pathway requires.

Yet in other cases it can have a toll.

With pressures from both professional and work life, a focus on “surviving medical school”, and the constantly mentioned idea of preparing ourselves for a lifetime of increased difficulty and increased workload – it’s easy to see how the thought of this eventual burnout can in itself be a damaging outlook.

Online learning has become a new point of worry, both by increasing the distance from and the capacity to learn using key tactile methods and from the perspective of doctors. It marks a key shift from being told online lectures were not a substitute to “the real thing” to now being the best alternative available for much teaching, and it means that the expectation of becoming a future doctor is marred with the potential concern of not being adequately prepared.

With all of this in mind, we can unpack the idea of expectations, and realise that these all stem from an assumption. The assumption is our ability to continue to live up to these expectations, and it is often based on a mixture of existing performance and our perception of how this will change in an evolving environment of medical education.

Breaking this assumption, we must uncouple ourselves from the notion of being expected to perform medicine as a requirement or service to others external to our progress. This way, the expectations other people apply to us need not feel like a minimum standard we must uphold with the burden of being judged, and thus we can be free of the self-inflicted pressures we face to meet them.

We often find ourselves advising patients to relieve stress and to be mindful of the damaging attrition a high-pressure work environment will cause to their wellbeing – it’s high time we did the same for ourselves.

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