The struggles of being an introverted extrovert in a professional program

26 February 2021

Hi, I’m Jacqueline! My husband, Levi, and I are both from British Columbia and we’re now second-year Griffith University medicine students in Gold Coast, Australia. I wanted to chat about an unexpected struggle I’ve faced so far. Not in the classroom, but in my own well-being.

Griffith University medical school students
Griffith medicine students Jacqueline and Levi

After all the hard work of MCAT prep, volunteering, and hours spent in a lonely research lab, all while trying to develop professional behavior, communication skills, practice showing leadership qualities, keeping an eye on all the premed forums on what else I could do to improve my application and just trying to hold it all together, I finally got into medical school.

And that was just the start of it. Preparing for the move to Australia was a huge task. There were visa applications, setting up bank loans to pay the crazy international school fees, packing my entire life up in suitcases under the airline’s 28kg baggage restrictions, and saying goodbye to my entire support system in Canada.

Levi and I arrived in the Gold Coast, found an apartment, bought and set up an IKEA showroom, and mentally prepared ourselves for the start of medical school orientation in just over one week.

After about 2 months in, the struggle I was facing in medical school was not at all what I expected. I thought in all this preparation I had considered every barrier that may arise in the first year of med: homesickness, imposter syndrome, burnout from the intense workload, not being able to get enough sleep, and gaining that freshman 15 all over again.

But there was one thing I didn’t expect and couldn’t predict.

Orientation week was a blast. So much free food. So many new faces. So many people congratulating you on this amazing accomplishment: “You’re in medical school. You are so smart. You can do anything. You are the next generation of doctors.” All things that would make any pre-med student squeal and cup their hands to their ears asking them to say it again!

As many bright-eyed first-year medical students are, I was ready for the work. I already planned how to color coordinate my notes and had many calendar spreadsheets tucked into my notebooks with motivational quotes pre-scripted on their front pages. I was ready to fight academic burnout. I was ready to study so I felt like I belonged in medicine. I was ready to start this adventure I had worked so hard for.

But I was exhausted! Not from the workload—I was getting loads of rest. Not from the imposter syndrome—with all the MCATs I’ve done (pssht), I can out-study these kids in my sleep! But, all of a sudden, all I wanted to do is sit in our dark IKEA showroom of an apartment and never leave or talk to anyone ever again. Why?

Again, some things you just can’t predict. Social burnout is definitely one of those things.

According to the Myers Briggs Personality Test, I’m right in the middle of extroversion and introversion. This means that I like to talk and make friends and I’m social in social situations, but also, I love me some alone time! Remembering this, I realized why I was so tired.

Orientation week was followed by a tsunami of other social events aimed to bring the medical cohort together! To make these everlasting friendships that doctors always talk about when they mention their time in med school. And I went to pretty much all of them. I was so swept up in creating a community with my cohort. I felt the pressure to make these so called “forever doctor friends” and I wanted to make them right now.

I realize now I didn’t take time to rest and recharge the introverted side of me. With a weekend to myself I could reflect on what matters to me, and why I am okay with not going to a scrub (pub) crawl.

Medical school is a challenge in and of itself. It is exciting. It is highly anticipated. And it is extremely worth the wait. But it’s never going to be what you expected and you’re never going to be able to prepare for everything, no matter how many premed/medical forums you follow.

Bottom line: It is hard to know your limits in such a new environment. It’s hard to keep yourself in check when all you want to do is immerse yourself in the program (whatever it entails—social or academic) that you have been fighting to be a part of for so long. But relax. Pace yourself outside the program the same way you plan to pace yourself in it. And when you feel like you’re burning out, extend yourself some grace. Skip out on the party, or push yourself to go to the party! You won’t become a doctor in one day, and you won’t miss the chance to make “lifelong friends” by skipping out on the pub after classes every once in a while.

Whatever your “self” needs, introverted or extroverted, or both, don’t be guilted into neglecting a big part of what makes you you!

Second-year Griffith Medical School student
Follow Jaqueline and Levi on Instagram

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