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Candidate Wellness – Ensuring a Healthy Mind for a Healthy Body and Spirit

Written by Kiyana Harris, MS, OMS-IV

We had the good fortune of meeting Kiyana on Twitter during Match week when she celebrated matching to Morehouse School of Medicine’s Psychiatry Residency Program. As she prepares to graduate from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, she shared her thoughts for Mental Health Awareness Month.

One of the biggest osteopathic principles I carry with me on a daily basis is a person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit. I love this because it emphasizes the holistic approach that osteopathic physicians have when caring for patients. It relates to the intersectionality theory which emphasizes the idea that there are often multiple facets of one’s identity that pose intersecting challenges. Approaching a patient from all angles transforms your relationship with them, builds the trust they have in you, and aids in their overall care.

Considering someone’s mind is truly astonishing because without a healthy mind, how can you utilize your body? And vice versa! This is what ultimately led me to fall in love with psychiatry.

During my clinical rotations, I witnessed how someone’s mental health affected almost every other aspect of their lives. It affects their physical state, the relationships they form, their careers, and more! Seeing a psychological transformation in patients and how it positively impacts their physical state was life-changing for me. I love how in psychiatry you are able to peel back the layers of a person, which is an honor because you are trusted with someone’s most vulnerable moments.

As a Black woman, I saw so many opportunities to help people from my community within psychiatry, such as raising awareness of the barriers people face pertaining to psychiatric conditions and changing the negative perceptions of seeking care. Psychiatry excited me every single day and I was so sad when my rotation ended. I knew in my heart there was no other specialty that would make me feel as accomplished and fulfilled.

As a future psychiatrist, I feel that mental health for DO students is something that is extremely important to address!

Medical school has many challenges and is filled with sacrifices, stress, and exhaustion. It can be hard to have grace with yourself and learn how to achieve a work-life balance. I personally experienced a loss during my medical school journey when my grandfather passed away. It was incredibly heavy for me, since he was one of my biggest supporters in becoming a doctor. This became a pivotal moment for me regarding mental health. I experienced regret for not being with him during his final moments, and I felt as if I needed to suppress my sorrow to push through exams. However, I was fortunate enough to have classmates and faculty from my school that helped me catch up on missed lectures. I look back on that experience with such gratefulness because it taught me about self-awareness, mourning, and being kind to yourself. Pay attention to what you are feeling and give your body and mind what it needs to refuel.

As a medical student, having grace with yourself and knowing how to achieve a work/life balance can be hard. I also feel that the mental health of DO student minorities and people of color is crucial. Many of these students struggle with imposter syndrome and microaggressions.

My initial driving force for not taking the USMLE was financial. I was fortunate to know an alumnus from my school who matched into psychiatry and only took COMLEX and succeeded. Knowing that someone else was able to do that and achieve great things made me feel inspired! I made the right decision too because I was blessed to receive a great number of residency interviews even after only taking COMLEX!

My advice to others is don’t feel pressured to take both exams. However, do your research and make sure you have all the requirements needed for the specialty you are applying to. For example, some residency programs may incorrectly list that they require USMLE. If you’re unsure, always check NBOME’s program outreach page or fill out the advocacy contact form if it looks like they don’t accept COMLEX. I also would advise making sure your application is well-rounded by having a strong personal statement, letters of recommendation, and other experiences.

My advice for dealing with the stress of board exams is to reward yourself. Celebrate small wins and give yourself something to look forward to! One piece of advice I received from a mentor that helped me was to make sure you do not isolate yourself. It’s so easy to separate yourself and solely focus on studying, but having human interaction is needed. Humans are not meant to be alone for days and days. You should still attend dinners with friends because it will help you from burning out. I have learned many tools to help me get through stress, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. It isn’t easy and even I still have days where I experience it.

It’s important to remember it’s okay to not be okay and find those tools that work best for you.

For me, it was working out; it is a great way to release stress and ease your nerves—just another reminder of how much the mind and body are connected. I also love utilizing essential oils, such as peppermint and lavender on exam days when I may be nervous. I’ll dab a few drops on my bracelet or wrist and smelling the oils is so calming! I also have a group text with my closest classmates, and we always vent and uplift each other! It’s impossible to get through medical school alone so do not be afraid to lean on others.

Be aware of your own self-talk. What are you saying to yourself? Are you saying positive statements such as, “I am intelligent and I can do this” or are you saying negative statements such as, “I do not feel prepared, I don’t think I can do this”? You may not even be aware of what you tell yourself, but if you feed your mind positivity, you will be surprised how your outlook changes.

There are many situations during your clinical DO years that you may feel unprepared for, such as a patient passing or feeling overwhelmed from moving from the classroom to a clinical setting. Finding what works for you may be trial and error, but seeking mentorship and support from others is helpful. Having a mentor whom you can confide in and share your fears or stresses with can make a world of difference. They may also be able to offer tips on response tools that helped them. Having a therapist is also amazing, especially if you are fortunate enough to receive one through your school. Talk to residents during your rotation. I loved meeting DO residents who understood our process and could relate to what I was going through.

I know that transitioning from being a medical student to a resident will be challenging but I can’t wait to look back on my journey and say, “Wow, look at how far you’ve come!”

I am so excited to become immersed in psychiatry and learn all that I can so that I can be an excellent psychiatrist. I am even more excited to be able to use the tools I gained to help underserved communities. I also can’t wait to attend more conferences, which was something I didn’t have as much time for as a student, and volunteer to serve on speaker panels for medical students. I want to be a resource to others and share my experiences with the hope to inspire them.

Be sure to also check out the American Association of Directors of Psychiatry Residency Training (AADPRT)’s supporting statement on COMLEX, and the NBOME’s Mental Health and Wellness Toolbox.