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Dublin: 14°C Wednesday 10 August 2022

Medical students confess: 'I don't talk about my rape. People might not see me as a capable future doctor'

Medical school is inherently stressful. This is heightened when you can’t talk openly about your problems.

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

The Association of Medical Students – Ireland (AMSI) has collected real stories and experiences of being a medical student in 2017. These, often heartbreaking, confessions show the culture of bullying within the medical profession, the support that we find in one another, and the terrible stigma that surrounds mental health, especially among healthcare professionals.

1. I WAS RAPED. Three small words and suddenly my story is one everyone has an opinion on. About how I knew him, or how I was too drunk or how I asked for it to happen.

This is why I don’t openly tell my “story”. If I did, people wouldn’t see me as the hardworking, funny, adventure-loving medical student that I am. They might not see me as a future doctor capable of taking care of their nearest and dearest. Instead, they might see me as a victim, an exaggerator, a drama queen and a liar.

Herein lies the problem. We have a huge reputation to maintain as medical students. We are slaves to our fear of impossible standards.

Let’s investigate this further by walking through your typical college day shall we? You attend lectures and study vast amounts of material. There are literally endless exams and assignments.

We submit ourselves to social commitments like society meetings, training sessions and parties. We prepare our meals and feed our coffee addictions on a grand budget of zero euros and zero cents every month.

Add in the emotional warfare of every consultant’s much loved Socratic method of teaching (aka drawing blood from turnips). Tachycardic yet?

We are so quick to talk about how a consultant roasted us on ward rounds, how we injured our ankle in a match and how we definitely failed that MCQ. We wear these shortcomings like badges of honour and tell the stories in the canteen. But remember to talk about those fighting depression or social anxiety while they accomplish this impossible feat too.

2. I WAS DIAGNOSED with moderate-severe depression in my second year, after suffering through the first, thinking that this way of feeling was what everyone went through. I tried counselling and CBT to no avail, but fortunately medication helped my situation immensely.

I had great support from close friends. They stuck by me in the scariest of times, when I felt like I wasn’t in control of my thoughts and when I felt I couldn’t trust myself. I also encountered friends and classmates who said that I surely couldn’t be depressed if I was managing to scrape passes in exams, and smiling when they saw me during the day.

I’m fairly open about it with friends and classmates. I found that others who’d been having problems came to seek advice from me about how to get help, and it was great to be able to provide that advice, to be in their corner so they knew they weren’t the first or the only person to go through it. You’d take antibiotics for a chest infection, so why wouldn’t you get treatment for another form of illness?

I wouldn’t ever disclose my diagnosis to an employer or to the school of medicine. There’s such a culture of “toughing it out” and just getting through. Given that Ireland is such a small place, I’d be concerned that such information could become available to another doctor who might have a hand in approving or rejecting an elective, or future scheme applications.

As a country, we’ve come a long way in realising that mental health is just as important as physical health, but for some reason we expect our doctors and nurses to be bulletproof.

3. FOR THE FIRST three and a half months of first year, I was largely alone. I was friendless in a new city, drowning in material I didn’t understand or know how to go about learning. I was constantly anxious, would spend weeks at a time hiding in my room and not going to college.

I failed an exam at Christmas and was convinced that I was actually secretly stupid and had been kidding myself thinking I was good enough. Thankfully since then I have made friends, found my feet academically, and managed to find ways of dealing with my anxiety as well.

But those feelings of inadequacy have never quite gone away. They rear their ugly head around exams, or any time I get a question wrong at a tutorial, or in front of a consultant.

I sometimes spend entire days in bed instead of going to placement, not out of laziness, but out of utter conviction that if I go I will be humiliated, ignored or kicked out of medical school. I realise this is completely ridiculous, but such are the tricks anxiety plays on the mind.

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Still, medicine has enabled me to make amazing friends, the best I’ve ever had. Every friend I have is good for something specific, whether it’s to listen to me rant, or talk about books or politics or music, or to just make me laugh so I’m not thinking about exams, failure or my own perceived inadequacy. Therapy helps a bit too.

From UCC, an unspecified university and from Trinity College.

Connect with AMSI on and

Depression, stress and emigration: Why medical students need to talk about mental health

How students at Irish universities are buying unprescribed ‘study drugs’ to deal with exams>

‘No profession has a public trial for making a mistake at work, other than doctors’>


About the author:

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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