Issue 2 - April 12, 2024

Savannah Santiago
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine Candidate 2024

Sole Purpose 2
Advice From My Favorite Mental Heath Professional

Recently, I was asked how I manage to maintain my sunny disposition and go-getter attitude, despite the challenges of the past four years, and how I avoid burning out completely. Honestly, I don’t attribute it solely to my efforts. I’m incredibly fortunate to have an amazing support system of people who surround me and uplift me daily.

Ellie and SavannahAmong them is Ellie, one of my best friends from college, whom I affectionately refer to as the “golden goddess of mental health.” Besides being an exceptional friend, she’s also a licensed professional counselor candidate, whose guidance has been invaluable to me and my classmates. Here are some of my favorite pieces of advice from her past 4 years of “therapizing” sessions:

  1. Floating Expectations and Standards

    Often, after an exam, I tend to melodramatically declare that I've failed, even when it's not the case. Yet, if I do "just pass," I find myself dissatisfied because I didn't surpass average scores or if I was above average, that I didn’t achieve a perfect score. Ellie has taught me about the concept of floating standards, where I constantly shift my goals, making it impossible to feel content with my accomplishments. She continually reminds me to take pride in my achievements and focus on the bigger picture of what I strive to accomplish. Even a small win, is still a win.

  2. Being a Zookeeper

    During times of extreme stress or busyness, I tend to neglect essential self-care tasks such as preparing proper meals (instead of relying on microwave burritos), tidying up my living space, going for a refreshing run when I need a break outdoors, or even staying hydrated because I perceive bathroom breaks as time wasted. It's embarrassing to admit, but I often find myself prioritizing other tasks over these basic human needs. Ellie challenges me to imagine myself as a zookeeper responsible for an animal (also me). This perspective shift emphasizes the importance of meeting my own needs, akin to caring for the well-being of an animal. It holds less weight when I complain about being unable to focus due to a messy room compared to recognizing that the tiger gets agitated when its habitat is cluttered. It makes sense; if the tiger is upset, I should tidy up for its well-being. Just as I would attend to a tiger's needs, a dog requires a daily walk to stay energized and healthy. So, yes, the dog must be walked daily, or it will feel unhappy and unwell. Similarly, the bear needs adequate sleep to function properly the next day, so it's essential to let the bear rest. This analogy might sound a bit eccentric, but it's remarkably effective in putting my own self-care into perspective.

  3. The Human Spirit Remains Undefeated

    Ellie serves as a constant source of reassurance, reminding me that individuals don't pursue medicine out of laziness or defeatism. Despite challenges, she highlights my resilience, noting that I've always emerged stronger from difficult situations. Her words reinforce the notion that I was chosen for this path because others believe in my capabilities. That despite everything, the human spirit always remains undefeated.

  1. You Are the Expert on Yourself

    If you couldn’t tell by now, I often dismiss my body's needs, whether it's for more sleep, addressing an injury, or managing my schedule. Ellie reminds me that I am the foremost authority on my own body and mind. Only I can recognize and respond to my limitations, making it essential to practice self-awareness and accountability.

  2. But I Have a Half Marathon Next Week?

    One of the most vivid instances of burnout in my memory occurred in December of my fourth year, just before Residency Interviews. It was a culmination of events—my APMLE Part 2 exam falling at the end of November, coinciding with the conclusion of my seventh externship in the same week. This all unfolded amidst the termination of eight months of constant travel across the United States, covering over 1,000 miles every four to five weeks. Throughout this whirlwind, I was constantly adapting to new living arrangements, hospital environments, and unfamiliar colleagues, pushing myself to maintain peak performance during each externship.

    In addition to these challenges, I had committed to running a half marathon in mid-December, as I did annually. In the first week of December, despite completing my externships and exams, I was astounded to find myself utterly drained of energy. In I first week of December despite completing my externships and exams, I was astounded to find myself utterly drained of energy. Even simple tasks, like a 20-minute run in preparation for the marathon, felt insurmountable. Strangely, I found myself craving lethargy-inducing activities like binge-watching TV, despite finally having the opportunity to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night. This fatigue was particularly puzzling, considering I had significantly reduced my study hours for residency interviews, down to 4-6 hours daily, a stark contrast to the demanding externship schedules.
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  • When I confided in Ellie, who is also my former college cross country teammate, she provided a reality check regarding burnout. She pointed out that it was clear my body and mind were exhausted from the relentless pace I had been maintaining. I remember her laughing when I said, "But I have a half marathon next week—I don’t have time to be burnt out." Taking her advice to heart, I allowed myself two full days of rest, devoid of studying, running, or medical duties, and spent quality time with loved ones. To my surprise, I found myself rejuvenated and back to my usual self. It was a shock to realize that taking occasional breaks actually does help. Ellie is a genius.

In addition to these invaluable lessons, Ellie's constant support through countless text messages, phone calls and a beloved trip to see her has been a beacon of encouragement during the past four years. She truly radiates warmth and positivity in my life, making me feel like the best version of myself. I genuinely wish everyone could find their own Ellie, and I am endlessly grateful for mine.

Until next time!

Savannah Santiago
PRESENT Sole Purpose Editor
[email protected]


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