This month, Luke Mountjoy, chapter president of the NMSA chapter at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine discusses the five key skills that each medical student should have.
Skills For Life
We know as a naturopathic medical student, life can be hard. We have a seemingly endless amount of material to learn, quizzes to write, assignments to complete, skills to develop, and exams to pass. Once we finally transition into the clinic we must learn when, where and how to apply this knowledge to best educate, guide and support our patients on their healing journey. The demands are immense. I like the analogy of trying to drink from a fire hydrant. As high achieving naturopathic medical students, we want to get all this water down. Clearly, this sets us on a path towards nervous exhaustion, especially as we find ourselves drinking from this well for at least four years. It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture; to forget why we are putting ourselves through all of this. As I enter my last few months of naturopathic medical school and reflect back on the past four years, I realize that the most important tools I’ve acquired aren’t thanks to the quizzes and exams but rather to the soft skills that have allowed me to navigate the racing waters of our profession. I would like to share my top 5 tactics for managing the demands of naturopathic medical school.
1) Resources! First and foremost, utilize all the resources available to you. From visiting the clinic, seeing counsellors, asking questions or stopping by the physical medicine open lab. Start early and use them often. Practice what we preach – preventative medicine. Learning how to ask for help is a life lesson that pays compounding dividends over time. The sooner you reach out, the sooner you will reap the benefits and learn how to navigate through difficult scenarios, opening the door for personal growth to begin.
2) Mindset! In the words of IceCube – “Check yo self before you wreck yo self”. I think It is safe to say learning everything within naturopathic medicine in 4 years is impossible. Having perspective and being able to continuously re-evaluate our self-expectations is key. We have chosen a path of lifelong learning. Keeping a healthy mindset about where we are on that path and where we think we should be, is easy to forget yet foundational to our long-term wellbeing. I am constantly reminded by doctors; “it is okay to not know everything” or to say, “I don’t know”. Believing this to be true and having the confidence to say that to your patients can be liberating. I like to remind myself that at the end of the day, we go through these challenges in order to better serve our patients optimizing patient care and outcomes. Keeping that in mind helps.
3) Connection! Keeping up with the demands of our program requires a lot of time and energy. If we are not careful, this can result in isolation and cause us to withdraw from the world around us. At Boucher, we refer to this as being stuck in the “Boucher Bubble”. Research has shown that a lack of social connection is a greater determinant of health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure1. Ekk! Drawing on the advice from Dr. Pamela Wible, “share your story”. If you are struggling, keep your friends and family in the loop. They are the ones that will get us through the most difficult times. The things we will remember most about our time in medical school are the connections we have made. Cherish the time spent surrounded by like-minded, motivated, inspirational people.
4) Boundaries! The importance of developing well-adapted personal, mental and emotional boundaries has been one of the steeper learning curves for me but continues to be one of utmost importance as a growing clinician. To have healthy boundaries is to have control over how we allow the gambit of experiences to affect us. Allowing the “I am not good enough” rhetoric into our headspace is the root cause of all sorts of harm. When you completely control your personal boundaries, you empower yourself and allow a challenging experience to be one of personal growth.
5) And finally, self-compassion! Recognize that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have only just begun a lifelong learning journey. The road will have it’s up and downs. Stop, breathe, breathe again, and allow yourself space to move forward without hasty negative judgements. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool when used properly.
The goal of these practices is to attempt to optimize our mental health and overall wellness. We have chosen a path full of great challenges and rewards. The better we manage our own self-care the better we will be able to serve others. Ultimately, we are trying to transform ourselves into proficient healers in a very short period. This transformation is no easy task, requiring a commitment to continued learning and self-development. It will force us out of our comfort zone. Yet through discomfort, through a difficulty; comes growth.
House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241(4865), 540-545.
Author: Luke Mountjoy
Luke Mountjoy is a fourth-year student at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver Canada where he serves as the NMSA Chapter President. Prior to enrolling at Boucher, he graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Science honors degree in Biopsychology. After graduating from university Luke spent a year working in the pharmaceutical research industry where he realized his calling came from another direction. He feels privileged to be a part of the naturopathic community where he is continuously inspired by the healing power of nature. When he is not at school or studying you can find him outside – on his bike, at the golf course, hiking or enjoying the company of his friends and family.