I don’t know what to say to them

For those who have been following the retelling of my trivial trials and tribulations as a final-year medical student, you would have known due to this current pandemic there has been a kerfuffle within the medical school as to how the internship application process will proceed. If you have no idea what I am referring to, please have a read here: How this pandemic is impacting me (and it’s not what you think).

All caught up? Well, here’s an update. We’ve received notice that the internship allocation will in fact not be a random ballot, but a set criteria that all hospitals must adhere to when evaluating their potential employees. It remains essentially as a merit system, with the weightings as follows: 40% academic score attained throughout the degree, 40% interview and 20% at the hospitals discretion. I am content with the result, although I know there is a considerable portion of the cohort who are very disappointed. But that’s no surprise, regardless of what the decision was going to be we all knew there’d be students who would feel unfairly neglected by it. Unfortunately there is no system in the world that could cater for every individual’s needs and we can only seek to work with what we have However, we are all in it together so I hope that’s a consolation for some.

Additionally, our z-scores were released about a week ago. They are the “academic score” mentioned above and it is an aggregate score from the first 3 years of our 4-year medical degree. The funny thing is, the medical school never warned us when the results were being released, so it was a huge surprise to everyone followed by instantaneous hyperventilating and palpitations (they’ve issued an apology since for forgetting to tell us). Now, as I previously discussed, the z-score is by no means an accurate assessment of our competency, nor should it be a marker that students use to define themselves. But it would be a lie to say that when the fateful email came through with a single number in bold lettering I didn’t feel my heart drop into my pelvis. It would be a lie to say that it didn’t feel as if it was almost half of what I was supposedly worth to the hospitals. Even though I knew I had done fairly well throughout my studies it didn’t quell the irrational fear that somehow I might have unknowingly been a terrible student. However, I am happy to report my z-score was better than what I was expecting. It doesn’t mean I’m a shoo-in for whatever hospital I choose to apply for (the interview process is worth just as much), but it does mean I have a good shot at a competitive metro hospital within the state.

So that’s me. But the events that followed the release of our z-scores is what I want to discuss. A group chat I was in promptly blew up with despondent cries of despair as people half-jokingly (or seriously) claimed they were done for. It was obvious some of my friends hadn’t done as well as they would have liked, and were facing the reality of possibly failing to snatch a spot at a competitive hospital they would have preferred to work at. Some were considering only applying for rural hospitals as a result, which is not an insult directed towards our rural community but rather a reflection of the popularity of metro hospitals and thus the difficulty of actually getting in. Some students may view their chances so low they’d rather cut their losses and simply apply for places they believe they’d have a better shot at.

So whilst everyone was lamenting over their insecure futures I sat there quietly, scrolling through the conversation whilst thinking of what to say. I definitely could not say I was feeling pretty chirpy, because it’d come off as boastful and condescending, only making matters worse. I wanted to be comforting and say supportive things, but I also felt awkward because it was a delicate subject that required some finesse. I wondered whether I could say, “I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think,” which you’d think is a good default, right? Very general and seeking to encourage some positive thinking. But what if it was as bad as they made it out to be? What if I was wrong and by saying that it would sound like I had over-estimated my own friends? Not only would it be useless but it would only add further insult to injury. So what did I end up saying to them? I emphasised that it didn’t matter, that it wasn’t a reflection of their competency and at the end of the day to not let it define them. Because they were so much more than a number and were going to become great doctors regardless. That it was just a silly number no one would even care or ask about in a year’s time. And it’s all true. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t still feel guilty saying all of that. Because I personally knew how important that email was to us, how every medical student would have felt opening it, as if their life hung in the balance. It was a make or break moment and for some, it was a colossal break. Of course we all wanted to get into hospitals at the top of our preference lists and having a high z-score was the perfect foundation to do so. There was no way it wasn’t going to feel like a big deal, for at least a few days as people came to terms with their individual scores.

Therefore, I struggled to type those encouraging words with conviction, because it felt like applying a band-aid to an amputated limb. The good intentions were there and I am sure it was more helpful than dumb silence, but I still felt bad. Plus, I was sitting on a pretty good score, so it felt a little hypocritical to be saying things didn’t matter whilst I was sighing in relief at a huge burden being lifted from my shoulders. I never ended up telling them how I did (it seems to be a medical student thing to keep such information under wraps), but it may have been obvious due to the fact I was the only one not joining in on the complaining and symphony of lamentations. It’s now been over a week since the fiasco and I’d like to think we are all having a more positive outlook to the upcoming process. And whilst it will be nerve-wracking times ahead of us I hope that one day we can look back with a sense of fondness at the trivial things we once stressed about.

Having said that, the entire debacle has had me thinking about something. It’s happened to me more than once where I’ve felt awkward trying to console friends. It’s never that I don’t care, or don’t know what would be comforting things to say, but rather I feel disingenuous saying things purely for the purpose of comforting them and not being able to do anything useful to help. Let me explain. If a girlfriend is going through some boy troubles, I often find myself saying various iterations of, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea,” and “you will find the one, you just have to be patient,” (FYI, I do word them in a more original way, I’m just using cliches here to make a point). But do I know that for a fact? No. I can’t guarantee they will have a happy fairytale ending, hell I don’t even know how many more fish there are in the sea. Of course I want my friends to find success in what they do, all of them deserve everything good in the world and if I could I’d grant them all their wishes. But if I was held accountable for every single thing I’ve ever said as an encouraging friend, I think I’d be handed multiple life sentences. Not having the ability to do something to help makes me feel useless and as if I’m making empty promises. I mean come on, how many times can I tell a person, “there is someone out there for you,” before we both start to think it might not be necessarily true?

Does any of this make sense to anyone? Perhaps not. Man, it feels like such a weird and nonsensical thing to be caught up in. Perhaps whilst I’m here, I’ll also quickly mention my frustrations when you provide the same advice over and over again and yet they come back making the same decisions, expecting different results. I mean, what do you do? I can see what mistakes they are making but it’s clear they don’t want to accept any meaningful advice and nor have any intention of making changes. I find myself caring less and less in situations like this and it’s a weird mixture of apathy and guilt, because I know a good friend should always care but the sensation of groundhog day seems to desensitise me to their problems.

Now that I think about it, I believe the issue for me lies in a combination of over-thinking and valuing actions over words. I want to be helpful and find the perfect thing to say, but sometimes I just have to accept there’s nothing that can encapsulate the care and support I have for my friends. And nothing I can physically do to help either. It’s a path they must take and regardless of what advice I provide the decision is theirs, and theirs alone. Sometimes they just want someone to listen to their problems and validate the emotions they are struggling with. And that’s what I try to do. I also always try to provide realistic advice as well, and gently remind them of their own actions that might have contributed to their circumstances. But I am aware of barriers and respectful when I can tell the only thing they need from me is fierce support and love, and not a nagging mother figure trying to scold them for their very human mistakes. So those are my thoughts for the day. This was a difficult post for me to write, and I found it challenging to put my complex thoughts into a coherent and respectful piece. I hope it made some sense to you all, and I thank you for reading. Have a lovely day.

27 thoughts on “I don’t know what to say to them

  1. I get what you’re saying and it’s so relatable for me! My friends are my friends and I love them to pieces but sometimes they are their own worst enemies. I will always support them and stand by them but when I see, especially one specific friend of mine, falling into the same pattern and bad routine it just makes me sad. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries so, like you, I casually call it out but make sure to offer them all the love and support they need as well. Sometimes people aren’t looking for a solution to their problems, sometimes they just want to hear what they want to hear. Each situation is different but I think you are doing fine!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I know exactly how you feel and sometimes it’s better to just shut up and be a supportive, listening friend than try to say anything. I am sure they are appreciative of all of your efforts πŸ™‚


  2. You hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph. When my best friend’s future husband broke up with her, I drove 6 hours with a bottle of red wine and a box of dark chocolates and sat up most the night with her, listening, and agreeing with every bad thing she said about him, while not adding anything that she might hold against me later if they got back together (which they did). But it took me time to figure this all out. Seems you already have.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It can be really hard sometimes, you have think not only about what they are saying, but perhaps also what they are not saying. You’re a great friend and I am sure she was very appreciative of everything that you did πŸ™‚


  3. Use your intuition, loving compassion, empathic listening and healthy boundaries. This used to happen to me a lot, I can relate to what you are saying. Overtime, with growth and communication experience and learning more about communication styles and characters of people, I learned to adjust what I say and how much I say based on individual situations. Using all of this has helped me to try to navigate the myriad of situations that I find myself in which are exactly like the ones you have discussed in your post. Do I know how to do things better now, I think so. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. I keep learning how to do based upon various situations. I am glad you were vulnerable enough to pour this out into a posting. It makes me feel like I was definitely not alone in my past struggles and experiences with this type of thing. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes presence is what friends need most and even colleagues. A friend can be there, waiting to say what’s real, even if the conversation is a morass of confusion. Making two cups of tea or something else. Not going overboard or underboard. I’m sure you know all this.

    I’m happy you received a successful assessment. I’m not sure in your field how the percentages actually play out. Is the z score considered most important as in for some exclusively important? The interview should be an opportunity to shine in a different and valuable way. Unfortunately, that often depends on the questions asked (and the ones the interviewee gets to ask). And then the hospital’s choosing must bear actual weight as well. I wonder how hospitals determine who wants whom.

    I appreciate your struggle to be authentic. Sometimes the world won’t accept that and must have the other, the acceptable mask or something like that. But there is the head and heart, and there we can be honest and honest as a foundation for functioning in the world.

    Congratulations! Please stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! The z-score accounts for 40% of the evaluation process, same for the interview. This year due to the disruptions from COVID-19 they’ve made it a standard across all hospitals, whereas in the past each hospital had more freedom when making decisions. To be honest I’m not entirely sure, just going to let them take care of it and accept what I am given. I hope you are staying safe as well and hope you are having a good day πŸ™‚


  5. Congratulations Doctor. This is wonderful news. I am really happy for you. As for the rest of it you are human and you do feel badly to some degree for the other students and you are right it will work out well for them if they are indeed excellent Doctors. Love and hugs and please stay safe Doctor. πŸ’•β€οΈπŸ™

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You already said it well. We all have problems and yes for those who have bigger problems than us it’s best we just listen and no judgment. Keep safe and thanks for the follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh my goodness, Helen, Amazing! I love your blog! x Ahh. The old ‘over-thinkers syndrome’, hey. I know all about that. πŸ˜› There isn’t a right answer about what to say, ever, is there? All you can say is what is true for you, and hope the person feels your genuine love and care, hey. And I’m so sure they’d feel yours, Helen, from what I’ve read here. πŸ™‚ Good luck with your journey to Doctor land! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! Yep, over-thinking is my forte as well haha. That’s true, we can only try our best to be supportive, and hope it will be interpreted as such. Thank you so much!


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