Starting School in a Pandemic

Happy belated one year anniversary of… COVID-19!

Image by Eea Ikeda on Unsplash

Yes, really. One year. It simultaneously feels like no time has passed and forever has passed. On one hand, I don’t remember what it’s really like to not be in a pandemic. Whenever I see TV shows where people go to parties or hug one another, I am baffled. On the other hand, I am very eager for the hope that’s creeping up with the onset of warmer weather and mass vaccination. At the same time, though, it doesn’t really feel like things are going to ever change, so I’ll be pleasantly surprised when they inevitably do. I read a comforting tweet recently that talked about how every pandemic in history has ended, and so will this one (I can’t find the tweet, unfortunately!).

The pandemic has affected every inch of the Earth and every area of our lives, but I wanted to focus on one area in particular today, which is starting school in a pandemic. Relatively speaking, it’s not the worst thing that could ever happen–I am very well aware that people have lost lives and jobs–but it is something that is still very real, and a factor of the mental health crisis happening concurrently with the pandemic.

I’m a first year medical student, which means that I started medical school in the midst of this pandemic. And we are the students I feel sorry for–the first years, whether that be for professional school or graduate school or university or college. Post-secondary education is such a different institution than anything before it, in that it really becomes a major part of your life in a way that high school doesn’t. I probably spent more time on campus or my friends’ houses during university than at home. The loss of being able to integrate fully into the community of your school is one that I feel keenly.

Image by Robert Bye on Unsplash

I am more fortunate than others because my medical school is in my hometown. Consequently, I am familiar with the places I like, I have been to most of the tourist destinations (funny how it’s not all), and I even have friends here. Still, I haven’t been here in my adult life long enough to explore it fully, and even I feel disconnected. I’ve probably been to my school’s campus about 25 times this year, whereas in university I probably went to school 25 times a month.

Similarly, finding friends at a new school for an introvert like me is hard in the best of times, but in a pandemic… it’s been really hard. Medical school is pretty small, about 150 people, and there are still so many people I don’t know. Though I have done my best to interact and see people in person when possible and safe, those times are few and far between. It’s difficult to forge a solid friendship when you see your potential friends once every few months. I’m curious to see how my class ends up over the next few years; if we will bond as closely as the upper years have with this lost year behind us.

It’s a funny thing to be wrapping up the school year (sort of, anyway) and realising that my first year of medical school was mainly spent in my bedroom. My interactions with my friends were mainly through FaceTime or Zoom. I saw most of my classmates only over Microsoft Teams–and on the rare occasion when I did see them in person, was shocked at how short or tall they were. I’m happy to be ending the year, but sorry that it feels like the year was a bit of a wash.

I don’t mean for this post to be negative, but honest about my thoughts. I do believe there are better days ahead, even though it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, and one day I’ll look back on this post and remember those days in 2020 and 2021 when we were in the worst of this pandemic. Until then, though, stay home, go for a walk, put on a mask, and wash your hands. Steady as she goes.

x B

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