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The Differential

Do Smartphones and Devices Actually Make Med School Harder?

Stephanie Nguyen, Medical Student, 03:14PM Feb 3, 2018

Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA

The last thing I do at night and the first thing I do in the morning is check my phone. This little device holds my entire life. It has an up-to-date version of my constantly changing schedule, my contacts, and social media; it acts as my GPS, as well as my wallet. I would feel lost if I didn't have my phone on me. I recall a time when I used to judge people that couldn't last a day without having their phone glued to their hip, but now I feel that the technology has become so well integrated into our lives that it has now become an essential part of day-to-day functioning. I had a conversation with my parents the other day about how my life would fall apart if I ever lost my phone, and they just rolled their eyes at me. However, realistically, if I arrived to the hospital without my phone I would likely never be able to track down my residents, wouldn't be alerted of any traumas that came in, and all scheduling changes would go unreceived.

Technology has facilitated a level of connectivity that has made life easier on so many levels. When someone emails about an event, it automatically gets added to my calendar. If the event details are edited, my calendar is updated in real-time. My calendar is also synced to the traffic patterns, and I'm always alerted as to when I need to leave my apartment to get to my destination on-time. I also wear a smart watch that pushes all phone notifications to my wrist, so I can quickly scan through messages without having to pull out my phone; this is especially useful when juggling several tasks at at a time. Although I appreciate the convenience of the automation and having these resources at my fingertips, I've also noticed that being so connected has contributed to my basal level of anxiety.

I recently had a difficult time sitting down to study. My attention span has noticeably decreased, and my computer always has more tabs open than I can reasonably keep track of. I used to effectively study in an isolated room for hours on end with just a textbook, and now I find that I feel almost uneasy being alone with my thoughts. When I'm alone, I keep thinking about all the things I could be missing. What if I receive an important message? What if an opportunity slips by because I wasn't quick enough to respond? I also noticed that my mind is accustomed to having a baseline level of stimulus and without having a phone or computer in front of me to provide this distraction, I feel like I'm missing something.

These are symptoms of being overly connected. Yesterday, I turned off my phone right when I got home and didn't touch my computer for the rest of the day. I felt a sense of fleeting anxiety, but then I was able to be more productive in accomplishing my to-do list. It was refreshing to not be worrying about the countless stream of emails and texts and to just focus on the things that were right in front of me. I can't do this every night but this mini-experiment has showed me that a lot of the things that cause me anxiety are not real issues that need to be addressed right away. I need to remind myself that it's healthy to slow down and take a break from technology.

About This Blog

Medical school and residency can be a stressful, demanding time. These medical students share their insights and experiences, good and bad, in order to create a community of support and understanding for medical students everywhere.

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