6 Key Ways to Cope with Racism During Medical School

By September 21, 2020No Comments

Navigating higher education and medical training as a minority student is hard – At times it can even be traumatic. 

In order to make it through Med school with your well being intact, it is important for you to actively tend to your physical mental and emotional health. Here are five tips to help you manage stress from dealing with racism during medical school.

1. Surround yourself with “Hype” people

While this sounds easy enough to do, in reality, many of us find our self surrounded by people who do not prioritize our success.

You must be relentless in cultivating the company you keep.

Take a moment and think of the people you interact the most with on a daily or weekly basis. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does your friend or family member always seen to dominate the conversation with their problems and worries?
  2. Do you have a hard time ending the interaction (ie, finishing the text convo, getting off the phone with them) when you’re ready to?
  3. Are the friends and family members in your life pouring into you the same amount you are pouring into them, emotionally?
  4. How do you feel when you walk away from interactions with the individuals in your life? Do you feel more inspired supported encourage? Or do you feel drained deflated, in disillusioned?

Your answer to the questions will reveal a lot.

3. Complete the #BoundariesChallenge

Try this. It is related to the above point.

Starting today or tomorrow, at the end of the day take stock of every person that you’ve interacted with. Consider how those interactions made you feel. You may even find it useful to write down in your phone or in a journal one or two words that summarize how the people in your life have made you feel for the day.

In one week, reflect on your daily thoughts. If you are mindful about the energy exchanges in your life, you will begin to see which people you should move closer into your inner circle and those you should be distancing yourself from physical and mentally.

Doing just that, will likely be better for your mental health.

Be sure to let us know on Twitter or Instagram @antiracistnow if you are successful in taking stock of your interactions in this way. We’d love to hear about it and share it with the community.

3. Understand that it is not your job to Teach Others How Not to Be Racist.

This point is simple yet important. You have ONE JOB as a medical student. ONE.

Your job is to get through medical school.

You know what isn’t your job? It is absolutely Not your job to teach anyone about racism. Especially if doing so compromises your emotional and mental wellbeing.

Let me say that one more time, because many of you need to hear this:

It is NOT your job to teach anyone about racism.

Your job is to get through medical school with your wellbeing intact.

4. Make Self-Care a Daily Practice

In order to thrive in medical school, self-care can not be an option. You will want to build up a daily practice of self-care as early as possible.

Examples of simple self-care practices which you  can consider include:

  • Listen to uplifting and/or upbeat music
  • Drinking your daily coffee out of a mug from home (this one is my personal favorite!)
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness for 10 or 20 minutes
  • Meet with a therapist

Your self care or “me” time should be thought of as mandatory not optional!

It is healthy, not selfish to prioritize your own well-being.

5. Take a Social Media Break

Social media is your friend and your foe simultaneously. While social media is an important way to stay connected with your community, stay up-to-date on current events, and network, social media may also make it hard for you to maintain your emotional well-being at time.

Social media can be taxing in a few ways. The fact of the matter is the anonymity of social media greatly increases your exposure to racist sexist homophobic trans phobic and ablest messaging. 

While interacting with racism in the physical the world is unavoidable, Social media breaks allow us to avoid many of these interactions in the virtual world. Embrace the freedom to “walk away” when necessary.

Another way social media can negatively affect your well-being Is increasing your exposure to disturbing visual images of the violent and disturbing images, including destruction of black and brown bodies.

Being exposed to these images repeatedly is a recipe for trauma. This brand of trauma is very common among minorities but is unfortunately largely unrecognized by the broader medical community.

If you are overwhelmed take a half-day, full day, one week or longer break from social media. Replace the time you would normally spend on social media with activities which contribute to your sense of control self-esteem and overall well-being. You won’t regret it.

6. Pick Your Battles

I get it. It’s hard to say no from what feels like your duty as a minority in higher education to work toward more diversity, protects and overall visibility.

Since there are so few of us minorities in medical school, it may feel wrong to sit back and “do nothing” in the face of bad information, unfair policies and other racist systems which are rampant in medical education.

Here’s a hard but important pill to swallow: not all battles are meant to be fought.

The best thing you can do is take continuous stock of your emotional bandwidth before you decide when and when not to engage with powerful people and the racist structures they create and uphold at your institution.

If you find you lack the physical and/or emotional energy to advocate as well as you might hope, honor that truth. Consider sitting out that project, protest, meeting or other responsibility and living to fight another day.

Antiracism work is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes the smart thing is to sit out a short term battle so that you stay healthy for the long game.

And don’t forget: your self-care and self-love is in and of itself an act of rebellion.

Closing Thoughts

There are many reasons people go into medicine. For many of us who are underrepresented in Medicine, one of our goals is to work to eradicate racial healthcare disparities. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in order to do this work and do it well we must take care of ourselves

Which of one these tips do you plan on incorporating into your own life? Let us know in the comments below!

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