Behind every med student is a proud parent. The moment you find out your child is accepted to medical school, you will want to celebrate and reward them. Order them a new stethoscope, a few sets of affordable scrubs and home goods for their new apartment. For some families, a feast or gathering may be in order.
In addition to these fun ideas, there are many other ways you can help set your student up for success beyond the initial announcement. The following tips will help you to stay connected with your student while helping them to blossom along their individual journey. Learning valuable lessons from experienced med school moms and dads will also help you to feel more confident about the choices you make as a family.
Understand the Process of Becoming a Doctor
Nearly every parent can imagine the rigors of medical school. However, some are not aware of just how long it takes to become a doctor. The first part of the process is the school program, which takes four years to finish. Once the student graduates from their academic program and passes necessary exams, they will spend between three and seven years in a residency environment to learn their specialty.
To become a fully licensed doctor in their field of choice, your child will be in “continuing education” for several years. This is why it is essential to develop patience and understanding, all while encouraging the same qualities in your child. The road to becoming an MD or a DO can be long, challenging and expensive, but it will pay its dividends in the end. Encourage your child and your family to keep their eyes on the end goal.
As a parent, you can support your child through your own education. Learn as much as you can about being a student in medical school, the difficulty of medical training exams and what it is like to be a part of clinical rotations or clerkships. If they are interested in a field such as psychiatry, pediatrics or neurology, ask them to tell you about the basics. They will be excited to tell you about their interests—and you will understand more about what it takes to become a doctor.
Give Your Student Some Space…
Even if your child is an above-average student, medical school is a completely new and challenging environment. Give them some time to adjust to the rigors of the coursework, as well as the expectations of doctoral-level internships and clinical practicums. Allow them time to socialize with their fellow med school colleagues, who will become invaluable to their experience.
Understand that medical school coursework takes an immense amount of time and effort to complete. Know that there are times when they may be too busy or distracted to answer the phone or may take a little more time than normal to text. If necessary, ask what type of communication style works best and try to accommodate it.
For example, email may work best during the school week. Phone calls or video chats may be saved for the weekend. It may take some time to adjust as a parent, but giving your medical student ample space to study and network will allow them to thrive in their academic program and their career.
…But Make Yourself Available for Support
All medical students need time to themselves, but parents should still strike a balance between space and support. Remind your child that you are available to them when they need to talk. Let them know you are still available for advice and that you will not judge them.
Sometimes, your student may seem quiet or you may not speak to them for a couple of weeks. In these cases, do not be afraid to check in. After all, parents know their child better than anyone. There is no harm in asking if your student is okay or if they need anything.
For kids who are attending a program away from home, send them care packages. Fill a box with their favorite snacks or comfort items. You can also include helpful study aids such as a book light, a set of new writing utensils or a wireless charger for their electronics. Cozy or fun gifts can be encouraging and uplifting during exam week or a particularly challenging quarter. Complete the package with a heartfelt, handwritten note, letting them know you are proud of them.
Some hard-working medical students may struggle with perfectionism. They may also neglect their health in order to study for exams or learn new material. A combination of a busy schedule and difficult academic demands can lead to what is known as “burnout.”
Some people think that burnout only applies to work environments. However, students can experience excessive stress, too. Be sure to let your child know about the signs of burnout, like excessive exhaustion, a negative attitude toward medical school or an inability to perform in school like before.
Encourage your child to eat healthy and get enough sleep. Send them a reusable water bottle to help them stay hydrated. Remind them about activities for stress relief, such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing. If they feel depressed or anxious, there are resources available to them. Many academic campuses have free mental health support available for students on site. You can also help your child set up a virtual appointment with a mental health counselor or therapist.
Talk to Other Parents
The parents of medical students share some unique experiences. Talking to other families who have a child in med school will help you to share tips and feel more connected. Ask experienced parents about what they have learned along the way and what they think they could have done differently. With their wisdom, you may not make the same mistakes or go through the same challenges.
While you will gather valuable advice from friends and family, some colleges and universities also have parent support programs on site. If you plan on being a part of your child’s med school orientation process, ask if parent groups or clubs are available to you. You can also search for more information online. The more you learn about being a parent of a future doctor, the more confident you will feel about how to support them through the process.
Supporting Your Future Doctor
It may not be easy to support a child through medical school, but the rewards will be worth it. Be proud of your student and try to let them know how much you care. Give them the resources they need to stay comfortable and focused. If you sense they need extra help, give it to them. They will appreciate your enthusiasm and love far beyond their academic career.