I want to thank the author for this post who has requested to remain anonymous. I hope more of will begin to trickle into my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Similar to a previous poster, I’m also a second year medical student in the US diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. I began experiencing symptoms towards the end of my senior year in undergrad. I found myself in and out of emergency clinics while receiving a series of misdiagnoses; the only thing that helped me to feel better was diet modification. I applied to medical school after graduation while conducting research during my ‘gap year’. I had a couple of months where I was relatively symptom-free, which I now understand were periods of remission. However, my health slowly deteriorated over the course of the year.
I was almost constantly bleeding, I felt tired all the time, and my dietary modifications were no longer helping as much. For a variety of reasons, I was also stressed out a lot, which I now realize definitely did not help my symptoms! Because of the misdiagnoses I had received previously, I was very hesitant to see any doctors. Instead, I continued to hope that modifying my diet would alleviate my symptoms. Unfortunately, that was not the case. My overall condition continued to get worse, and it limited my productivity – there were times when I could not complete experiments in lab because I was literally too afraid and tired to leave my apartment for any period of time.
Once I decided what medical school I was going to attend, I moved to that city during the summer and sought care at one of the local GI clinics. My first doctor there was actually a graduate of the school I now attend – he was incredibly supportive, and arranged for immediate endoscopies, both upper and lower. I received my diagnosis of UC the morning after my school’s White Coat Ceremony – at the time, I was relieved to finally know what was wrong with me. However, I had no idea what a diagnosis of IBD meant, as I had not even heard of the disease before.
My first year of medical school was, in one word, a rollercoaster. I went through a series of treatments, many of which only worked temporarily. I had to be hospitalized briefly because of side effects from one of them in particular. I was still always tired, my diet was restricted, and I felt somewhat isolated from my friends because I would often not have enough energy to do things with them whenever we were not studying. My condition was still getting worse, and that affected my grades. There were times when I wanted to quit school, but thankfully I was able to get through things, and a couple of months ago I finally went back into remission after starting one of the biologic therapies.
Not everything about UC has been bad though. Having IBD forced me to become more health-conscious and to have a greater appreciation of “health” in general – I am always grateful for the good days, as opposed to before my diagnosis when I took my health for granted. It also gave me a first-hand perspective of chronic disease, and I hope that this well help me to better relate to my future patients. Finally, I am lucky in that I have had a group of friends here who have supported me throughout my time in medical school thus far. They have bailed me out at least a few times, and I am grateful for their support.
Since I am still in the early stages of my training, I do not have a ton of advice. However, there are a couple of things I would suggest. Most importantly, make sure you have a strong support group, even if that group is small – friends, family, etc. You will likely need their help at one point or another. Secondly, do realize that things will not necessarily be easy – any form of health professions training will be rigorous and demanding, and having a chronic disease will certainly add to your stress. That is not to say that things will be impossible – however, just be prepared to work hard and accept that at times, your abilities may be limited, and that is ok. There will be brighter days!