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Dear Mom and Dad: A Memo to The Families of Medical Students

In the next two weeks, that child whom you have been nurturing for two decades will sign on to a new existence – one of a medical student.

Rest assured. Your child is bright; otherwise he or she wouldn’t have reached this point in his or her learning career. But med school is a new and varied  experience for every new student.  No one knows exactly what to expect. What and whom they’ve relied on before matter little now. They’re nervous, excited ….maybe even a little scared? Yup. That’s your kid (even if the trepidation might not be obvious).

Most students, myself included, got through college courses and exams by cramming. Though it was decades ago, I vividly recall pulling all all-nighters;  trying to digest as much  course material as possible right before the exam only to regurgitate on a test.  In medical school, that approach simply won’t work.  There is too much information and it comes at too fast a rate to rely on cramming skills.

For the past couple of weeks, many of us have been consumed by the triumphs  of the London Olympics.  We have watched athletes pull off unbelievable feats of stamina and personal effort.  We recognize the hours of practice and intense training that produce these effects. It is precisely that devotion and single-minded approach that med students need in order to succeed.  They need to function like athletes or musicians or dancers, not like college students. And as parents you can help them.

What can you do? Be a “Michael Phelps‘ mother”: always there rooting your child on (arm raised, heart full) – but understanding that this chosen road will mean periods of intense concentration even isolation at times.

Mom and Dad, the reality is that your child will no longer be able to attend every family function, and yes, he or she may even be short with you on the phone. Hope you like to text! Hard work and dedication are the required tools to get through med school and you need to cut your “doctor-in-training” some slack in terms of family commitment expectations.

For parents who have students heading into into the clinical years (three and four) this is even truer. Medical school faculty will be trying to instill concepts of responsibility to their charges on the wards – lessons that will have to carry them through their whole career.

This may mean missed Friday nights, Thanksgiving by Skype and just a card, not a visit, for Grandpa’s birthday.  So be prepared and be understanding.  This career is what you and they want, and it’s clear how to get there.  And just when you think you’ve mastered the changed expectations – it’ll be time for residency!

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Stephen G. Baum, M.D.

Stephen G. Baum, M.D.

Dr. Baum is senior associate dean for students; professor department of medicine (administration) and professor, department of microbiology & immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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