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Priya Malhotra

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Discussing Med Student Problems With @MedStudentProbl

Posted: 10/12/11 03:27 PM ET

Medical school is hard.

During particularly tough moments, I try to use rational thought to avoid nervous breakdowns. For instance, I remind myself that I chose to be in medical school. I want to be a doctor. I mean, my life isn't as fun as it used to be, but being a medical student is an honor and a privilege. And I also tell myself that this isn't supposed to be easy. Medical students learn as much as possible because doctors need to be prepared to save lives. Save lives!

These kinds of rational thoughts, however, have a tendency to slip away from me. After spending many sleep-deprived hours in the library subsisting only on vending machine coffee, the mood swings begin. I can no longer use rational thought. This inability to think rationally makes studying particularly difficult. And then, because I can no longer study effectively, I begin to panic about upcoming exams. I put another dollar in the coffee machine and attempt to study hard... and the cycle of insanity continues. Woe is me!

Despite my studying-induced bouts of psychosis, I do take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone on this stressful (but rewarding) journey. There are thousands of doctors in the world, all of whom survived this grueling process. Furthermore, there are thousands of current medical students experiencing the same craziness I'm experiencing, right at this very moment.

Case in point: @MedStudentProbl. I began following this Twitter handle during my first year of medical school. The tweets always lighten my mood, even in my darkest pre-exam hours. @MedStudentProbl tweets about the highs and lows of medical school, always through a humorous (humerus?!) filter. In 140 characters or less, @MedStudentProbl sums up the complex feelings so familiar to medical students. In doing so, it makes us feel like we're not alone... even if we've spent the last 16 hours in a private study room.


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"@MedStudentProbl: Just because I'm in med school doesn't mean I can offer you any form of remotely useful medical advice. #MedStudentProbl"

(This illustration of a @MedStudentProbl tweet was created by Julia Carusillo. See more of her work at juliacarusillo.com and ohsaladdaily.tumblr.com.)


I recently had the chance to talk to @medstudentprobl. Check out the interview and giggle at the interspersed screen shots of my favorite @mestudentprobl tweets.

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In 140 characters or less, what is @MedStudentProbl?

A support group for all exhausted,stressed,stinky,lonely,caffeinated,broke&broken out med students w/revolting GI tracts around the globe.



Who are you? Are you one person or several? Are you students? Where are you from?

We are the blindness induced by staring at a laptop screen for hours on end. We are the thousands of dollars of debt you're accruing as you simultaneously work your ass off. We are the juice of the mesenteries mixed with formaldehyde that you smell as you try to eat your dinner after a long day in anatomy lab. We are the sweat on your brow as you strain to take a coffee-induced bowel movement before, or during, a big exam. We are the hint of shame you feel after getting pimped by a scary surgeon and not knowing the answer. We are #medstudentproblems.

No, actually, we're 4 med students, girls and guys, but our names and location will remain a mystery. The beauty of it is that our location doesn't matter -- we receive tweets and have readers from all over the world; Brazil, India, Mexico, the Caribbean, you name it. We exist in the thoughts of every student trying to make sense of this very unique experience that is med school.



Will you continue this Twitter account after you graduate?

We think so, but it might evolve to #residentproblems-- we could see residency giving us LOTS of new material....


What made you decide to create this account?

It all started when one of us came down with strep throat in the weeks approaching a heavy exam period, shortly after we had received our "doctor tools" that we rarely had an excuse to actually use. She happened to use her otolaryngoscope to look at her throat in the mirror, only to notice white pustules on her tonsils. It was a pretty weird feeling--kind of like "Eureka!" meets "FML" -- out of which our first tweet was born: "Can't decide if i should be excited about correctly diagnosing my strep throat or upset that i am painfully ill #medstudentproblems."

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When did you start this Twitter? How did you get started?

150 days ago. Ever since the strep throat incident, several ideas were floating around in our heads, things that made us think, "Wow, this is a problem only a med student would have." For example: several instances of the 7 Eleven cashier assuming that our pre-exam late-night candy binge was really a less-than-sober search for munchies, a tornado warning that left us more worried about losing study time than our own safety, and the fact that we were entering this rigorous path to "professionalism" despite having the maturity level of 13 year olds. Eventually, all of these ideas exploded in the form of tweets, and #MedStudentProblems was born. Followers started showing us to other follows, creating a "positive feedback loop" similar to estrogen during the follicular phase of menstruation.



How many followers do you have? Who are they?

2,280 as of now. They are med students, residents, attendings, nurses, premeds, significant others of med students, automated bots, aliens, spermatids, pirates and goobers.

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Was your popularity immediate? Do you frequently get new followers?

When we first began, we grew at a rate of about 100 follows every 2 days. Our rate of growth is directly proportional to the amount of tweeting that we do, and the amount of tweeting that we do is directly proportional to how much our lives suck at any given moment. There was a lull during our summer break when our freedom and general happiness inhibited our # (number, not hashtag) of med student problems → our tweets → our # of new followers/day. By the way, you know you're a med student when you use terms like "inhibit," "directly proportional," "positive feedback loop," and those little arrows you can make in Microsoft Word in every day conversations.


Who do you follow?

We initially searched for other med students and health care professionals to follow in order to see some of the things they were tweeting back at us and become a part of the "medical Twitterverse," which we feel we've definitely become a part of. As of now, we're on 35 "lists" ranging from "drs all over the world" to "foot health."

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Do you follow @whitegirlproblems or other similar accounts?

We don't officially follow @whitegirlproblems, but the precedent that account has set is definitely a culturally pervasive one... the kind of thing that makes you take a step back from the things you complain about and ultimately find humor in the fact that, "Wow, this problem is so specific to my role in society."


What are your favorite Twitter accounts to follow?

Mostly we just love hearing from our followers, who often provide us with some of the best tweets. However, @HuffingtonPost and Priya Malhotra have to be the 2 most brilliant accounts we've come across. (See? This is why we honor all of our classes.)


How do you deal with the fact that the relationship between medicine and social media is such a sensitive one? Do you really hate med school?

We make a point to NOT tweet about anything that could be traced back to a specific patient, student, doctor, hospital, medical school or institution. Not only does this help us avoid issues relating to patient confidentiality and representations of any specific medical school or person, it really just supports our whole premise: it doesn't matter who you are, or where in the world you're learning to practice medicine, there are certain universal things we can all relate to as med students, which is what makes our experience so unique and communal. If anything, #medstudentproblems has really allowed us and other medical students to cope with and make sense of the stress and other unusual things we deal with on a day-to-day basis through humor. We often joke that we're somewhat of a "support group," and in many ways I think this is true!

It must be made clear that despite our sarcasm, apparent lack of maturity, innuendos, and occasional cynicism, we never underestimate the importance of professionalism in the field of medicine. That being said, medical school is an extremely challenging journey on all fronts and when it comes down to it, we're all just human. This is where our humor comes in -- it's a a healthy coping mechanism that really helps us STAY human despite this challenging experience, and thus ultimately better relate to our patients. In reality, we do love medical school and all of the #medstudentproblems that come with it! Hopefully, we haven't made TOO many pre-meds reconsider... :)

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