How Can I Study for the MCAT if I have Chronic Pain?

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Session 124

Living with chronic pain is hard. Living with chronic pain as a premed might be impossible. Our question today is from a premed struggling with a new diagnosis.

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT (eBook version) is available for preorder on Amazon and Kindle. The paperback version will be released soon so stay tuned! To whom is this book for? This is not a prep book just to clarify. This is not a content knowledge book. But it’s going to give you the information you need to know so you can better understand everything about the MCAT – when to register, how to register, getting fee assistance, how to best study for it, etc. The Kindle version is $4.99 and the paperback version is $9.99.

The questions here are taken from the Nontrad Premed Forum. If you haven’t yet, please register to join the collaborative community of nontrad students.

[02:50] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:

“I’m a 24-year old graduate student. Currently, I’m studying for the MCAT. I got diagnosed with muscle tension related headache in December 2017 after many weeks of headaches along with sever tension in the trapezius and shoulders.

I had to cease my studying and started again last week. I have tried my best to transform this condition into a positive outcome by starting to shadow pain medicine doctors, soon, doing yoga, and hopefully being able to teach yoga to underserved patients with chronic pain in my free time too. I thought the condition started getting better. But two days ago, I got a major tension in my entire back down to my knee that I could barely walk and felt so fatigued. The reality of this condition really makes my doubt my physical ability to perform as well as I would like to. I’m an active, energetic, resilient person and I cannot see myself doing anything else aside from becoming a doctor. I also consider other fields of medicine such as PA but I know I’ll regret that one day or will find a way to go back to medical school, which is something a lot of PAs do. However, this condition is the toughest thing that I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. If any medical student or doctor here is dealing with chronic pain, can you please advise me, how you’ve been able to and were able to adapt to the rigors of medical school, especially the third year and then residency?

I have been thoroughly researching everything but there’s not much on medical students and doctors with chronic conditions. There are only some articles about doctors with chronic pain complaining about the lack of support and understanding from their colleagues and facilities and the medical system and advising about doing something else instead.

If you know any medical student or doctor who’s dealing with this, can you please connect me with those people of course with their agreement. I’m just very at a loss and just really need some help.”

[04:33] Control the Headaches First

As of this recording, the poster’s condition is still relatively new at about five or six months old. In the middle of being a student, studying for the MCAT, and everything else – all the stresses that come with that, it’s hard to get better.

Being married to a neurologist and healing the conversations she has about headaches, headaches are really painful. And there are things that need to be considered.

How’s your posture? Are you sleeping enough? Are you drinking too much caffeine? Are you drinking too much alcohol? Are there any other medications that may be causing any issues? Are you getting rebound headaches?

These are common headache things to think about. Now, the first step is to control the headaches and to stop worrying about the MCAT. As a 24-year-old, you still have time. Honestly, I would recommend for you to take a year off from the application. Take time off. Figure out how to control the headaches. Go see a neurologist or a Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) physician. Go see an osteopathic physician who may be able to do some OMM. Go see a physician and get this handled. Then start studying again.

[Tweet “”The first step is to control the headaches and to stop worrying about the MCAT.””]

[06:20] It’s Okay to Take a Year Off

Without properly fixing what is wrong and getting to the root of it and continuing to study for the MCAT and be stressed about the applications and everything else that comes with this process, things are not going to get better. And all of that is going to increase the stress related to this whole process and increase the frequency and duration and strength of the headaches.

If you’re not dealing with headaches or chronic pain, but you’re dealing with struggling on the CARS section of the MCAT and you’re just slugging along as you try to do better, your CARS section probably isn’t going to improve. Everything else is piling on top of your already stressed life. It’s the same situation.

[Tweet “”It doesn’t hurt to be conservative and wait a year to apply. It doesn’t hurt to wait to apply one more year. It can only help you.””]

So wait a year if you can and continue to do some shadowing, clinical experience, volunteering, etc. Take the time no matter what the issue is. Whatever it may be, taking a year off is okay and likely the best answer for a lot of you.

Understand that taking a year off is probably going to be the best answer for you and it will help you in the long run. At this point, you may think your pre-applications or pre-medical school or pre-residency is terrible. But in the grand scheme of things, one year is nothing.

[08:30] When to Take a Year Off

Think about your situation, whether you have chronic pain or not. Whatever your situation is, if you are feeling stressed and you are doubting your ability to get it all done, take a year off.

This process is meant to be stressful. So if you feel there’s no other alternative, then take a year off. Do this if you’re dealing with chronic pain and nothing’s getting better. If you’re struggling with the MCAT and you’re feeling defeated and you feel you haven’t improved and the MCAT is coming up and applications are open, then consider to take a year off. But if you’re just stressed about getting your letters of recommendation, essays, or ECs done, that’s normal. So don’t put off a year just because of those normal stresses.


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