Eli Nemetz is a medical student at the University of Toronto.Picture of Eli Nemetz

I’m taking the summer off” I say to my classmate who’s completing research this summer in dermatological malignancies. “I’m taking the summer off” I say to my close friend finishing his master’s coursework along with his MD. “I’m taking the summer off” I say to my clinical preceptor.

I’m taking the summer off and saying so feels like my entire body is comfortably stretching after a year of the hunched, stiff, seated position I’ve assumed behind my computer screen learning medicine. At the same time, saying I’m taking the summer off gives me a gnawing feeling in my belly. In a culture that focuses so heavily on productivity, a culture that views accomplishment through the lenses of publications, authorships, and scholarly pursuits, it’s difficult to re-commit to self-care and wellness while holding the prior truth as valuable.

By being quite “green” to the culture and world of medicine, the force and strength of the hidden curriculum has taken me by surprise. Schools share their time management tips, provide students with a yoga mat, scheduled fifteen-minute mindfulness mediations once a month, and a university-logoed reusable water bottle, but the culture of producing and productivity still stays the same. While all those options are important for medical students, a large part of wellness happens after the logoed water bottle is in the dishwasher and the mindfulness meditation class has ended. It may look battling imposter syndrome after failing a big exam. It may feel like nervous butterflies waiting to speak to a mental health counselor. It may sound like, “I’ve been feeling like I’m alone in this…” to a trusted faculty member. The productiveness, the publications, the excellence in scholarly pursuits is the recipe for a good doctor. Engaging in self-care and wellness, taking care of oneself to better care for patients is the recipe for a great doctor.

So this summer, I’m recommitting. As clichéd as it sounds, I’m recommitting to myself so I can recommit to medicine, and thereby recommit to patients. What does my summer off look like? It looks like doing things I love, trying new things, and simply being. It includes taking my not-super-athletic-self hiking three times in three new places, trying a new coffee shop by myself even if it makes me uncomfortable, making strawberry lemonade from scratch with tons of sugar because I love sweet things, and organizing my overflowing closet. It means going for long walks with my mom because doing so gives her joy and her perspectives and laughter are treasured. It means movie nights, picnics, and cooking attempts with the reliable fire alarm (which may often end up in take-out) with my partner who has worked this pandemic as a paramedic with zero complaints and constant commitment to his patients. Focusing on the things that give us joy allows us to ride the waves of failure, mistakes, and difficult moments that medicine, just like any other part of life, has.

So, if anyone asks, tell them I’m out of my proverbial office and taking the summer off.