Written my Emily Seeto, Edited by Jack Vorgias
Six months in, and I find it hard to label myself as a “med student”. But it’s not exactly due to imposter syndrome sinking in its claws, but rather because of some bizarre desire for non-conformity. And in a world of labels and stigma and ever-present pressures to make a name for one’s self, I don’t think I’m alone.
I’ve read some great pieces by my fellow Pubs writers on the omnipresent Med Bubble, the rise of #Medtertainment. I’ve scrolled through my Facebook feed only to find a Love Letter asking for a list of single Med students. No preference for personality or interests or experience- just that single demographic indicator, written as simply as ticking a box to say “yes, I’ll order that one please”.
And so the question begs; what is it that the rest of the uni sees?
If dating is simply the act of selling yourself (or whatever sense of self that remains once we pass the threshold between ‘in bed’ and the ‘great outside’), then being a Med Student- at UNSW, mind you- is our most marketable trait. And so as we trudge down the stairs from upper campus to the Quad our bio settles into place. Med student, it screams, but just beneath it says smart, studies hard, competitive and, in a whisper, earning potential.
Sometimes it feels like we’re grocery items on the conveyor belt being scanned and bagged one by one, or the instant swipe right by way of the degree we’re pursuing.
Sometimes it feels like we might as well be attending other UNSW events outside the “med bubble”, so to speak, wearing scrubs and steths as though parading round theatres in suits, hurling banana after banana at our peers.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. We’re proud to be here, to have put in the hours of memorising, countless embryology lectures and rubbish bins full of toads. But at the same time, what makes us proud isn’t necessarily what everyone sees, or what we want them to see.
Perhaps some of us are a little competitive, a little ambitious, a little too study-focused. But that’s not everyone, despite the fact that we all share the same label. We study medicine because we’re compassionate, empathetic, self-sacrificing and we love the long hours. Being med students isn’t our “brand”. We’re musicians, artists, athletes, writers, meme-makers, food-lovers.
There’s the notion of ‘reverse catfishing’ in which one objectively attractive human opts not to choose an objectively attractive photo as a profile pic on any given dating app. Think of it like posting the “before” shot when you’ve already reached the “after” phase, with the intention of weeding out prospective partners who “don’t see the real you on the inside”. Sometimes I find myself indulging in something similar as a uni student- saying you study “health” doesn’t share the same burden of expectation as studying “medicine”.
So I think it comes to this. We can’t change how the world sees medicine, or the large proportion of eager parents nudging their children in our direction. What we can change is how we interact with the rest of the uni and the world at large and understand that our field of study is only part of our narrative.
One case in the medicine community is the infamous Ali Abdaal, known for topping his year at Cambridge, being so productive he’s got 25 hours in a day and reading every habit-building book known to man. And his story is a lesson learned; just because we study (or will have studied) medicine doesn’t always mean we’ll practise forever.
So while our bios will always have some element of “medicine” involved, there’s so much more that each of us offers. Or perhaps they’re blank and are waiting to be filled. But at the end of the day, we aren’t all carbon copies of each other, and medicine isn’t our manufacturer.