September 26, 2013
Your Doctor Is A Hypochondriac
It is late September, and I have spent the past month watching one of my good friends be repeatedly roundhouse kicked in the face by medical school. He is a MS1 student in the middle of his first anatomy class, a task that requires learning all of the details of human anatomy in a mere seven weeks. His advice to the world: “Do not go to medical school unless you really, really, REALLY want to be a doctor.” There would be an exclamation point, but he is too tired to shout.
Despite that positive attitude, I think that he enjoys what he is doing. His afternoons are spent dissecting cadavers and examining the intricacies of the human body. He is also learning about the etiology and pathology of disease. His nights are spent consuming large quantities of knowledge, and then regurgitating that material on exams at the end of each week.
He is a scientist, a rational thinker, and a budding hypochondriac. Immersing himself in his studies, he is recognizing the fragility of human life.
He is not alone. The New York Times recently published an article detailing “Medical Students Disease.” Also referred to as “nosophobia,” or fear of disease, it has been witnessed in a number of medical students over the years.
The disease was first characterized in the 1960s. McGill University conducted a study that found that 70% of medical students mentioned having symptoms that corresponded with the illnesses that they were studying. They would observe happenings in their body, and attribute those happenings to a larger, sometimes dooming, disease.
Some experts disagree that “Medical Students Disease” is an actual phenomenon. Other, more recent, studies have stated that medical students are merely stressed out. In fact, they are no more likely than other graduate students to complain of illnesses that they do not have.
Whether or not “Medical Students Disease” exists, I think that being a doctor with hypochondriasis would be terrifying. Think about it. This is more than a WebMD soap opera story. As a medical student, you are trained to identify diagnoses from a range of symptoms. You must systematically identify each possibility. Imagine having a headache, knowing the exact origin of the headache, the activity of that particular nerve, and all of the things that could go wrong. Moreover, you are personally invested and incompletely trained. This is the stuff of nightmares!
Also, does it go away, or persist throughout their careers? Are all of our medical professionals closet worrywarts? Are they afraid of the very thing that they have learned to conquer in others?
Some doctors are described as “invincible,” they have spent years learning how to heal and subconsciously believe that it is not possible for them to get sick. Other doctors may still worry, but have been shamed into silence due to their extensive training.
In conclusion, you may not like your doctor. Heck, your doctor may not even be likable. However, at one point he or she was a stressed out medical student who thought that he or she was dying of a random illness for a brief period of time. So, maybe you should give them a hug, or a wink, or a handshake. Let them know that it is okay. You believe in them. And you do not believe in their impending doom.
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