Survivor’s Guilt

Our university offers counseling for students throughout the year, especially if those students have failed or are ‘at risk’. I think this is a great thing, because aside from the overwhelming nature of the work we do and the immense responsibility that comes with caring for sickly human beings, I think a lot of us place some portion of our value in ‘being a medical student’. These counseling services provide perspective as well as guidance.

Or so I’ve heard.

Never having been to see the psychologist or counsellor, The above is based mainly on what others have told me. Sessions are compulsory for a borderline or failing grade in a block, and from what I’ve heard can be anywhere from fifteen to sixty minutes long.

One senior relayed the story of her appointment, in which the assigned faculty member drew endless graphs and helped her correlate her stress levels with her achievement levels. Another peer of mine was apparently looked right in the eye and told, “There were a lot of people who wrote the re-write and passed. You didn’t. So clearly you’re doing something wrong.”

Which, ouch.

I know someone personally, who failed despite doing all that she could. I know another who followed none of the rules of effective and diligent studying and still managed to gallop into fourth year with primarily distinctions. So, no, Doc. That’s not the way to go about it.

But I digress.

There is a phenomenon known as Survivor’s Guilt. The DSM-IV doesn’t officially recognize it if I recall my psych correctly, but I know it can be lumped in with PTSD. It exists when one feels bad about surviving a traumatic event that others did not manage to. Usually it refers to more ‘serious’ events like natural disasters or armed robberies, so please don’t think me insensitive for my next statement.

I think it is possible for us as peers (especially if we grow close to one another) to have Survivor’s Guilt. Medical school can be traumatic, and getting through it sometimes feels like you’re warring against the elements. I think any close friends of a medical student who failed whilst they did not ought to be given at least a brief session–non compulsory, but highly recommended–to combat the overwhelming feeling that celebrating or enjoying your progress would somehow be traitorous and unkind.

Because I want to be excited about the fact that I’m so close to the finish line, but I feel I have no right to not only express but even feel that excitement.

Am I the only one who’s ever felt like this? Has anyone else ever had a close friend fall behind along the way and battled with something akin to survivor’s guilt? Am I overanalyzing my grief on behalf of my friend? Am I even making sense?

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3 Comments

Filed under random, ranting, Thoughts

3 responses to “Survivor’s Guilt

  1. You are so not the only one who felt like this!
    My med school class was small, at least as med classes go, and quite close. We had a strangely high rate of attrition (if you can call it that), especially med 3 into med 4. And each time, for the most part, I felt (and so did others) as if we could have done something. Or that we shouldn’t be as excited to be where we are because they are not. Or wondering why we made it and others didn’t. I don’t know if everyone felt that way, but I know I did and so did several others. Empathy is a good thing. Sometimes it can take over a bit too much.
    The good news is for us that those of us who didn’t graduate this past year are graduating this year. And we all turned out alright.

    • Trisha I really thought that I was over thinking my emotions or something dramatic like that! It’s weird, wanting to be proud of yourself and happy, but feeling selfish and insensitive for it. Thanks for popping by!

  2. SO, this is a long time after your post (what can I say, I’ve been away), and Trisha hits the nail on the head. I just want to say what a privilege it is to see your metamorphosis (sp?). Your posts have always been fun to read, but as you grow older I can absolutely see the maturation process happening in your writing. It’s quite remarkable. And you’re a GOOD writer, too!

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