PHOBIAS IN MEDICINE
By: Charbhi Gupta, MBBS Final year- II at Government Medical College and Hospital, Patiala
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
What is a phobia, you ask? It is an intense, irrational fear of an object, activity, situation, animal or person. It is basically a type of anxiety disorder. Don’t be alarmed by the term “anxiety disorder” though, because just like a person who is initially scared of dogs can eventually come to love them, you too can overcome any phobia you have.
Medical people are often the most dreaded people (and the most loved ones too). Kids often imagine doctors and nurses to be the “humans in white coat holding injections in their hands” and the fact that kids (mostly) are scared of needles is often deployed by parents to entice them to do something, eating vegetables for example. Now, if medicos have the ability to scare people/kids off, that does not necessarily mean that they themselves cannot be scared of a particular object or a situation. Therefore just like other humans, it is totally normal for doctors to have their own phobias and through this article, I mean to shed a light on all the phobias that you may experience in the medical field.
Fear of dead bodies and dissection:
After entering a medical college, one of the first encounters of a medical student is with dead bodies, human specimens and formalin-laden tissues. And for most of them, it is actually the first time seeing an actual dead body, right in front of them. As stupefying as it may sound, but CADAVER IS ALWAYS A MEDICAL STUDENT’S FIRST TEACHER. This sudden exposure to a corpse/cadaver is often associated with a sudden increase in the levels of emotional stress and anxiety in a first-year medico but this stress declines gradually due to continuous exposure and adaptation. (1)
Fear of sharp objects aka AICHMOPHOBIA:
Yet another thing that we come across after entering a medical college is sharp objects; be it needles, scalpels or blades. And just like normal human beings, some of us can have an irrational fear of sharp objects. However, the use of sharps is indispensable to the medical field, making it necessary for us to overcome aichmophobia.
Fear of pus/blood/body tissues:
Blood, pus and tissues are common sights in hospitals and medical colleges and to fear them is also normal. The student may get uneasy, breathless, dizzy, lightheaded and anxious on seeing blood, pus or human tissues. However, with the passage of time and limited yet continuous exposure, most of us are able to overcome this fear on our own.
Fear of examination:
Who does not fear exams? Exam phobia is yet another reason for immense stress and anxiety among medical students. According to a survey on exam anxiety in medical students, some of the most important contributing factors to exam anxiety are extensive course loads (90.8%), lack of physical exercise (90%) and long duration of exams (77.5%). (2) However, exams fear and anxiety can be easily overcome by anxiety-reduction techniques and stress management.
NOMOPHOBIA aka no mobile phone phobia:
Yep, you heard it right. Mobile phones have become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives that loss of access to mobile phones even for a very small duration lead to discomfort, anger, anxiety, and insecurity in medical students. (3)
Social phobia/ social anxiety:
Although social anxiety is common in the general population, its presence in medical students can often contribute to a negative attitude towards communication, teaching skills and may impact participation in group workshops thereby leading to decreased learning opportunities for the students. (4)
Fear of failing at being seen to be a functional human:
According to researchers, it is the biggest fear of a medical student. (5) Being in the medical line, a lot of us tend to avoid disclosure and seek help for a medical condition that we are suffering from. We would rather postpone going to a teacher and evaluate the risk-benefit of disclosing our condition to a senior before we make a final decision and as a result, we often put our health at risk by letting the condition worsen itself.
Whilst the acknowledgement of the fact that you have a phobia can be scary, most of them can be easily treated by ‘Graded exposure therapy’ and adaptation. If someone is still unable to cope, they can try deep breathing exercises and anxiety reduction techniques.
But the treatment options do not end right here, taking a hint from the western countries, Indian medical schools can also cater to the needs of their students and fraternity by providing them with counselling facilities. Having an on-campus counsellor will help the students avoid the hassle of finding one outside and paying a hefty amount in exchange for their mental peace, which is often one of the main reasons students avoid counselling in the first place. Moreover, the in-campus counsellor will be well aware of the college algorithms and policies, thereby making it easier for them as well as the students to connect with each other.
Whilst it might sound to some as too over-the-top demand, catering to a medical personnel’s needs will ultimately help them cater to their patient’s needs in a much better and more efficient way. Not to mention, ‘official peer support groups’ guided by experienced medical professionals and seniors who can cater to their student’s needs by understanding them and respecting their privacy can also prove to be indispensable in bringing about the same outcome.
And for a fact, the existence of these phobias is very normal nowadays, so much so that it has been suggested that ‘over one in 10 people at some point will have some phobic aspect in their lives’ and this means that it is common and people can actually talk about it and get help. (6)
So, DON’T FEAR YOUR FEAR, FACE IT!!
1. Bernhardt V, Rothkötter HJ, Kasten E. Psychological stress in first year medical students in response to the dissection of a human corpse. GMS Z Med Ausbild [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2023 Jan 27];29(1):Doc12. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3205/zma000782
2. Researchgate.net. [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51428642_Factors_causing_exam_anxiety_in_medical_students
3. Darvishi M, Noori M, Nazer MR, Sheikholeslami S, Karimi E. Investigating different dimensions of nomophobia among medical students: A cross-sectional study. Open Access Maced J Med Sci [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Jan 27];7(4):573–8. Available from: https://oamjms.eu/index.php/mjms/article/view/oamjms.2019.138
4. Laidlaw AH. Social anxiety in medical students: Implications for communication skills teaching. Med Teach [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2023 Jan 27];31(7):649–54. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19811149/
5. Shahaf-Oren B, Madan I, Henderson C. “A lot of medical students, their biggest fear is failing at being seen to be a functional human”: disclosure and help-seeking decisions by medical students with health problems. BMC Med Educ [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Jan 27];21(1):599. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34865636/
6. Rose C. Sharp scratch episode 86: I’m a (phobic) medical student . . . Get me out of here! BMJ [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Jan 27];380:34. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/380/bmj.p34