How We Can “Have Each Other’s Backs” During Difficult Times

Four ways you can look out for the people in your life.

Oleksii Didok / Shutterstock
Oleksii Didok / Shutterstock

Medicine has always been an especially hyper-competitive field. It requires tremendous time and effort that, unfortunately, often comes at the expense of sleep and a social life. I do believe that the most patent lessons arise from trial and error, but as the saying (attributed to Benjamin Franklin) goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.” No medical student is alone in their journey. We need to learn to have each other’s backs, competitive as we might be. Doing so will serve us well in every aspect of our lives, whether we’re at home with loved ones or treating a patient in the clinic.

Here’s my advice for all the different ways you can look out for the people in your life, while acknowledging some of the road bumps you might encounter along the way.

Prepare to be a friend

The first and foremost place to begin relationships, whether that’s with friends or work colleagues, is within our respective selves. We must be prepared to enjoy and endure all that comes with friendship and camaraderie. Every positive interaction begins with respect for and from one another. From there, trustworthiness and honesty come naturally—you can think of these as the foundation for looking out for others.

Practice empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share in another’s feelings, and it all starts with listening. When someone expresses their concerns to you—even if they’re venting!—express a genuine interest in what they have to say; after all, this person is trusting you enough to confide in you. Validate that person’s feelings, and don’t be that person who tries to “one-up” them with a story of your own. Be thoughtful when someone asks your advice. Read the room. And if you don’t have the energy for an interaction, say something: establishing boundaries is an important part of building trust in any relationship.

Encourage and celebrate the achievements of others

Be someone’s cheerleader by encouraging them to lead their best life. Sometimes, all they need is a small nudge in the right direction! 

Be happy for your friends and colleagues when they’re celebrating a big milestone or personal achievement. In life and in medical school, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, and it’s easy to be critical of yourself for feeling this way. Remember that envy is a totally normal feeling motivated by self-preservation instincts. If you find yourself feeling jealous, mindfully tune out those negative feelings, and share in that person’s happiness—you’ll both shine brighter for it.

Recognize mistakes, make reparations, and provide support where possible

No relationship is perfect from beginning to end: you’ll always encounter challenges and situations that test the bonds of your friendship. This could be something as simple as a disagreement between the two of you, or an external event—like loss of a loved one—that disrupts the status quo of your relationship. How you respond to these situations can completely transform the relationship, for better or worse.

In the case of personal disagreements, apologies and forgiveness with a genuine desire to mend the rift on both sides is essential. I think it’s a shame when pride, greed, or anger clouds judgement for a long period of time. There’s simply no point in holding onto a grudge. Similarly, if you find a friendship to be one-sided, there’s a point where you simply have to let go.

In situations where you do not approve of your peers’ actions, be bold enough to speak up in their own interest, but always be respectful—ultimately, you cannot make decisions for anyone else. 

In case of turmoil such as grief, I recommend showing care through action instead of words. It will be appreciated beyond expression.

All is all, friendship and camaraderie are two-way streets and require both sides to invest time and effort to make things work. There may be a need for space or a need for closer support depending on the people and the situation. No two people are alike—use your emotional intelligence to be the judge of the best way to act. I hope I have given you food for thought. Stay inspired, and please, have each other’s backs—there’s never been a time in our lives when it’s been needed more.

This article was originally published on Osmosis.org, a health education platform providing millions of current and future clinicians and caregivers with the best learning experience possible through engaging videos, practice questions, and high-yield notes. To explore more of Osmosis’s COVID-19 content, visit their COVID-19 resources page.

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