Second-year medical student Annie Dinh writes about her experience maintaining a sense of balance while attending medical school during COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

Beginning Second Year with a Greater Sense of Balance

I was in term two of my first year of medical school when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.

I was challenged by how quickly I had to adapt to a new classroom environment. It was hard not being able to see my classmates every day. Though studying with my chihuahua, Tito, was fun, he didn’t exactly test me on the material like my friends who I usually studied with on campus.

My schedule fell apart and my quarantine days revolved around lectures and Netflix, leaving me extremely restless at home. This left me a lot of time to self-reflect and think about life outside of medicine.

I thought back to my first semester, and to the advice that I was repeatedly given by professors and peers alike: “maintain your identity outside of medicine.” I really contemplated and asked myself, “had I maintained my identity outside of medicine?” Unfortunately, the answer was no.

The first year of medical school was a whirlwind. It was full of many highs, including all the life-long friendships I made through late night study sessions, the opportunity to meet all sorts of amazing people, and some of the best memories in my life.

But there were also many lows, especially around exams and the way medical school took over my whole life.

When we finally got a break due to the pandemic, I was forced to look inward and focus on myself and my identity. I realized through all the mayhem of the first year, I had forgotten who I was outside of medicine. I decided to take the pandemic as an opportunity to change this.

It was a slow process, but I managed to take back the hobbies that made me who I was before entering medicine. Long naps were replaced by workouts, which gave me energy and a sense of productivity. I reduced my screen time by discovering my passion for houseplants.

I began spending my days researching different plants and how to take care of them. I learned how to propagate a spider plant and I learned how to spot the best windows for sunlight. I found a deep satisfaction in looking after my plants and felt rewarded with each new leaf I saw growing.

Admittedly, I also killed my fair share of house plants in this journey, and I am still fighting a deep-rooted fungus gnat infestation. But I was proud that when I was looking after my plants, I didn’t think about medicine.

The pandemic gave me the opportunity to find this new hobby and rediscover the fun of exploring a new passion. I now plan to keep growing my houseplant collection throughout my second-year of medical school, and am committed more than ever to keeping my identity.

With this greater sense of balance, I can now introduce myself as Annie Dinh, plant-lover and second-year medical student.

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