Medical Student Syndrome

As term draws on and first years begin to prepare for exams, I thought I would share a few thoughts on Medical Student Syndrome.

Medical Student Syndrome… what is that?

Defined by wikipedia as a condition where medical students students “perceive themselves to be experiencing the symptoms of a disease that they are studying”, this is a very common issue faced by medical students all over the world!

Put simply, when you study a disease for a long time, you begin to persuade yourself that you probably have it and need to go to your GP. However by the time you get to your GP you have forgotten about that disease, and now think you have something else that you are studying.


How does it present?

This condition typically begins in first term when students start learning about the thyroid (an endocrine gland in the neck). Their first lecture on the thyroid one week is about an over-active thyroid. After being taught about the presenting symptoms (feeling hot, palpitations, hyperactivity, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, weight loss…) students begin to diagnose themselves with an over-active thyroid.

“I must see my GP,” they remark, “that lecturer perfectly described how I feel all the time… I do feel tired, sometimes I get anxious and I do sometimes feel hot and find it hard to sleep”.

However, being early in the year, the GP is busy, so they get an appointment for a couple of weeks time.

The full symptoms of medical student syndrome begin to show the following week however, when the thyroid lectures begin to cover an under-active thyroid gland. Once again sufferers get that sinking feeling when the lecturer begins to explain the features of the condition (fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, constipation, dry hair, dry skin, muscle aches…) and they start once again to diagnose.

“Gosh, I am glad I booked that GP appointment,” they remark, “an under-active thyroid explains all of my problems… I do get tired sometimes, and I occasionally need an extra jumper because of the cold, and I have gained a little weight.”

Musing on the way home, they begin to consider that they might have symptoms of both an over and under-active thyroid. Perhaps they are the first person to have this they explore, perhaps they could write an article in a journal about it.

The next day whilst studying the biochemistry of thyroid disease they begin to realise that perhaps their thyroid is normal (as it’s not possible to have both an over and under active gland at the same time). They sensibly cancel the GP appointment, only to regret it during the next lecture, when they self-diagnose diabetes.

I live with some medics/ sometimes enter SAFB, is it contagious?

This can be contagious, particularly when discussing conditions in a group. Prophylaxis can involve singing loudly whilst medics talk, or simply not letting them diagnose you- if you are worried and have some symptoms go and see a doctor instead!

That sounds serious… is it fatal?

Most of the medical school suffers from this at some point or another, including myself, and we’re still all here!

If you are worried about symptoms you’ve experienced go and see a doctor, don’t try and diagnose yourself!


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