Can You Be A Doctor If You're Squeamish?

Can You Be A doctor if You’re Squeamish?

Being squeamish, afraid of the sight of blood, or grossed out by human illness, definitely shouldn’t get in the way of becoming a doctor. Like everything else, the more you’re exposed to those things, the more you get used to it. That’s what’s worked in my case at least!

Looking at back at all my old encounters watching hospital-based dramas or documentaries on TV, it’s hard to imagine the road I’ve gone down. I remember having to look away a lot of the time while watching operations. While in real life I really didn’t cope too well with needles either.

Flash forward to now though, my fourth year of med school, and most of these things seem quite routine. Having studied the science behind a lot of this stuff, I find it mostly interesting now rather than off-putting. Personally, I think that’s often what happens with most people.

When you understand the process behind something, you no longer fear it so much. Being squeamish is normal!

I Want to Be a Doctor But I Get Grossed Out

This was a genuine fear of mine going into med school. I even remember my first day in anatomy lab, unzipping a cadaver from a body bag for the first time. There’s a particular feeling that came over me. One that’s quite hard to describe but verged somewhere between surreal and the need to vomit.

Related: Do all medical students have to dissect a cadaver? (My personal experience among dead bodies)

Needless to say however, and a couple of weeks after seeing the same sight over and over again, I saw things differently. No longer did cadavers (some of which were in quite a lot of disarray) unnerve me. Now they were rather objects of study I grew to enjoy handling and exploring.

That’s not meant to sound so creepy!

The same can be said for my clinical experience too though. The first time you see strange abscesses or odd swellings on a patient, you feel a little taken aback. But it’s just more the shock of coming into a new environment where seeing such things is normal.

Again, with time, you get used to it. You even begin to actively look forward to seeing something more gross, now that your senses are blunted by the cycle of repetition. At least that’s how I feel anyway!

So my main message here, especially if you want to be a doctor but get grossed out, is to try not to think about it as an impediment too much. At the start it might be tough. But you’ll rarely have to touch, feel or look at any of these things for long.

And that small exposure over time will soon see you moving past it.

I Want to Be a Doctor But I’m Scared of Blood

Blood, especially when its pulsating from a damaged artery, can be quite a disturbing site. Its bright red metallic sheen – and the fact its so strongly associated with serious injury – is often what gets people. Doctors included!

Rather than reacting to the sight of it however, most doctors fear probably comes from the idea of failing to stem the bleeding. Or perhaps causing people to bleed in the first place. Such is there responsibility.

In terms of a med student being scared at the site of blood (it’s actually called hemophobia), here’s a few tips on what you could do to overcome it:

  • Repeated exposure: there’s a reason this idea keeps coming up – it works! Start off by exposing yourself to the sight of blood a little at a time. Gradually increase this the more you get used to it.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): learning to reframe how you see and react to blood is a key way to overcome fearing it. CBT can really help here.
  • Therapy: talking to a professional about your concerns can help you better deal with your response. Worth investing in if you the previous approaches don’t work but you still really want to be a doctor.

Note that these approaches are also great for solving the aforementioned issues also; those of being squeamish or grossed out.

Related: How to avoid medical student syndrome: 5 powerful tips

When it comes to drawing blood, which you’ll soon have to get used to doing as a doctor, the same tips apply. For further advice check out the following video from Hjiabi Nurse.

How to Avoid Fainting During Surgery

The best way to avoid fainting during surgery is to make sure you’ve eaten well enough before you get in the operating theatre. Water helps too, as I found out myself as a med student on the orthopaedic wards for the first time a couple of years ago.

Surprised to learn that fainting during a surgery isn’t exactly rare, these were tips I actually picked up from specialists themselves. Foods high in sodium are even better, as are keeping your glucose levels high or tensing your muscles every so often has to improve venous return.

How to Stop Being Squeamish

Preventing yourself from feeling squeamish can be done the same way as dealing with fear of blood or fainting during surgery. To recap:

  • Exposure therapy
  • Sufficient fluid and calorie intake
  • Breathing and muscle tension
  • Acceptance of it being a normal response
  • Trying to relax

Usually the first and second steps are remedy enough. The only time I’ve ever witnessed my colleagues fainting or turning pale at the sight of things is when they skipped breakfast!

Summary

Starting out in medicine, it’s almost an expectation you’ll find certain things off-putting or weird at first. Being squeamish, although it may manifest in different degrees, is common in many medical students (me included). So here’s what to consider:

  • The more you see and practice things the less impact it’ll have
  • The more you study things the less “freaked out” you’ll get by them (and instead you’ll look at them clinically or logically as “puzzles” to solve)
  • Remember to breathe, drink and eat in cases where you fear being squeamish
  • Understand that it’s a normal feeling that’ll likely lessen with time
  • Recognise its your reaction to the thing (and not the thing itself) that may cause the fear

Just like I’ve been able to, I’m convinced you too can get past each of these problems.

Image Credit: Hush Naidoo at Unsplash