Of all the challenges that come with medical school, coping with homesickness is one that can be easily overlooked. Having focus and emotional energy is vital to your success, but dealing with homesickness can consume some of that focus and energy.
There’s a joy in being welcomed into the medical community, yet it can feel bittersweet to be part of that community when it requires sacrificing time with family and friends, leaving your hometown and even forgoing your usual hobbies. For some people—especially for those studying far away from home—homesickness is about missing people and places. For others, it’s about missing parts of your personal identity that flourished in those places. As much as we might long for that special home-cooked meal after a particularly challenging shelf exam, we may also miss the feelings of confidence and self-assurance we left behind.
Confidence will come with time, even if home doesn’t get any closer. Here are four ways to make coping with homesickness a little easier.
1. Bring your loved ones with you
One simple yet easily overlooked way of managing homesickness in medical school is to surround yourself with pictures and keepsakes that remind you of the people who are most important to you. While you’re engrossed in anatomy and renal physiology, looking over at a picture of your family or a treasured figurine can be a great reminder that you’re not alone on your journey.
When I made my trek to medical school four-and-a-half hours from home, I took family pictures, several books from my room and even my collection of snow globes. Having these mementos can be a comfort on tough days and serve as a reminder to keep in touch with your family.
2. Keep the phone lines open
Whether it’s via call, text or video chat, connecting with your loved ones outside of medical school is an excellent way of coping with homesickness.
Scheduling a day or time for calls gives you something to look forward to in the busy and often-overwhelming world of medical school. However, be sure to set expectations with family and friends about your available time. There might be times where it will be inconvenient for you to talk and you should make that clear to them.
I called home on Saturday mornings, usually via FaceTime or Skype, right before my studying session started. This timing worked particularly well on post-exam weekends because I was able to pour out my thoughts on the exam and share my relief with having learned another chunk of information. That said, don’t forget that staying in touch is more than an opportunity to vent about school—it’s a chance to keep in touch with your loved ones’ lives, from friends’ weddings to siblings’ birthdays.
3. Share traditions
Sharing family traditions with medical school friends is a great way to cope with homesickness. Bringing parts of your life before medical school with you can help retain the memories of home. From favorite recipes to game nights, keeping small traditions going through medical school can mean a break from the rigors of schoolwork and a reminder of the other parts of your life that help you thrive. I made a point to try my hand at traditional dishes I’d learned to make from my grandmother and share them at our potlucks, and I put up a Christmas tree in our small apartment as the holiday season approached.
Also be sure to keep up with your own activities like running, writing or practicing your religion. It can sometimes be easy to forget about them when faced with the need to study, but these breaks from medicine are what will help you soothe the ache when homesickness strikes.
4. Make visits home matter
When you do get a break to go home, embrace it fully. Make an effort to visit your favorite places and enjoy your favorite activities with friends and family. For me, going home meant joint spa days with my mom and brunch with my high school friends as well as watching television late at night and falling asleep in the family room.
Even when you have to get some studying done, don’t let it take away from the time you have with loved ones. Also be sure to take pictures and videos so you can have them when you go back to school.
Homesickness is an inevitable part of medical school, and the cure may be a small dose of home, taken regularly. However, when that’s not possible, there are plenty of other ways you can help yourself deal with homesickness, including keeping treasured mementos nearby, talking with loved ones regularly and sharing family traditions with your new friends.