UCI News

Alleviating med school angst

UCI duo publish ‘diary’ of peer experiences from across country to show students they’re not alone

by Nicole Feldman, UCI | December 1, 2020
Alleviating med school angst
“We wanted to address rising burnout and the importance of mental health in medicine by creating a safe space for inner reflection and expressing emotions,” says UCI’s Daniel Azzam, co-author (with Ajay Nair Sharma) of “Diary of a Med Student,” a compilation of over 100 stories from students at more than 50 medical schools. Photo: William Poon.

Ajay Nair Sharma and Daniel Azzam were roommates during their third year of medical school at UCI. Each day, they would come home exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally – but telling each other a story from their day gave them strength. Some were heart-wrenching, some were uplifting, and some just made them chuckle.

That daily download so helped them work through the tough times that they started finding ways for other medical students to share their experiences – with each other and with their friends and families. The result is Diary of a Med Student, a collection of 100+ stories from students at more than 50 medical schools across the country.

“We wanted to address rising burnout and the importance of mental health in medicine by creating a safe space for inner reflection and expressing emotions,” Azzam says. “This is especially important this year with the historic occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising social injustice in today’s world.”

The book debuted in September and has already sold over 1,000 copies. Sharma and Azzam will put all of the proceeds toward a scholarship fund for incoming and current medical students.

Diary of a Med Student helps remove the veil,” writes UCI alumnus and SketchyMedical co-founder Saud Siddiqui in the publication’s forward. “It helps us understand that we are not in this alone, and we are all more connected than we may think.”

The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

In the excerpt below, one student anticipates the start of medical school as her hometown is hit hard by the coronavirus.

 

“Nancy”

“Sorry, that was our last roll.” The sales associate’s voice echoed through the empty grocery store. I sighed, feeling the warm moist air reverberate from the mask back to my cheeks.

The town felt somber on my drive home, but it was almost noon. It was when Nancy would come by and drop off our mail with her glistening smile. Nancy was more than our mail-person. She was there for life’s most important moments, letters from my dad across the world, the day I got my first work check mailed, and the day I got accepted to medical school.

That memory, I recall vividly. “It’s a thick one, it isn’t thin,” she laughed as she squeezed the letter and left it at the screen door last fall. It was from my dream medical school. She waved as she ran off our porch and across the yard to our neighbor, the leaves crunching in her wake.

“I got in!” I exclaimed to her the next morning as she handed me the mail. She knew every Wednesday that November, I would already be waiting on my porch for her arrival. We hugged. “I guess I won’t be seeing you next Wednesday then,” she chuckled. “I hope not!” I joked.

Fall passed and winter came and with that, coronavirus. It was as if everything in the world had stopped, except Nancy. I turned off my Zoom camera and walked to the door. “White Coat might be canceled,” I announced through the window. She felt my defeat through the door. “Don’t let this get you down. We need people to keep going – people to heal,” she comforted. Her smile beamed through her N95 mask.

Spring came. Nancy delivered my stethoscope one warm April day. After laying it on the porch, she trudged across the lawn hunched over. I saw Nancy less and less. Distracted by my anxiousness about school, April passed. May arrived.

“Where’s Nancy?” I asked my mom, feeling guilty for not checking in. She had not come by in weeks. “She’s at the community hospital.” Our town had been hit hard by COVID-19. “There’s a letter in the mail for you, but no return address,” my mom continued, handing over a wrinkly pink envelope doused in Lysol.

“This pandemic will pass, but you must go on. When the world is sick, we need hopeful healers.” It was from Nancy.

Nancy perished a week later due to complications related to coronavirus. More than an essential worker, she was part of the fabric of our suburb, interwoven in our everyday life. She connected loved ones across the world by postal mail. Despite rain, snow, or a pandemic, she was there for our community.

She was truly a healer to me.