I am suffering from a mild case of medical student disorder. For those unfamiliar with this condition, I must tell you that is rages rampant across college campuses worldwide. It crops up with particular frequency in samples of students currently enrolled in their school’s brand of Psych 101.
Basically, once inflicted with this disorder, students begin to recognize symptoms of the serious illnesses they’re learning about in themselves and others. In extreme cases, students develop the unfounded belief that they are qualified to diagnose and implement treatment in response to said symptoms. As I said, I have sniffles rather than a full fledged flu, but even this tame state can be a little disconcerting.
Several moments in class have aggravated my illness. As we began to discuss eating disorders in class, we talked about “restricted” and “unrestricted” eaters. Restricted eaters keep very aware of what they eat and maintain constant limits on their intake. They are prone to becoming occasionally disinhibited and succumbing to high calorie binges. Having heard this description, I realized I could classify myself as a restricted eater. Later, when we were talking about obsessive-compulsive disorders, we discussed rechecking as a ritualistic compulsion. Before leaving the room, I caught myself checking and rechecking around my seat to assure I hadn’t forgotten anything. When we talked about personality types, I paid special attention to the tendencies and motivations of introverts, as I am one. Apparently introversion may stem from wanting to find escape from a consistent state of mental arousal, whereas extroverts do not experience this state and seek stimulation to find it.
These insights into what I believed were personal tendencies make me a little uncomfortable. I have always had an aversion to labeling, so being able to put such exacting descriptions of myself in so few words makes me squirm. I feel labels can render a person one dimensional. The single, all encompassing label gives no clues as to one’s development up to that point or one’s particular motivations for action. It clumps what would be individuals into faceless masses, stripping away what we believed was uniqueness with the cold harshness of a single word. In discovering overwhelming instances of commonality, we begin to feel we are just bits and pieces of other people rather than an entity all our own. Applying labels to behavior and psychological processes has the added effect of making us question our free will. Where we once thought we were actively making conscious decisions, we now think we may just be adhering to an inherent, preset pattern coded in our very genetic structure. Like advanced computer software, we spit out the proper response when the right combinations of variables are plugged in.
I suppose contracting mild medical student disorder can yield some benefits. You may find comfort in knowing your quirks aren’t so quirky, or you may catch possibly dangerous escalations of those quirks before they strike. You may find it helpful to identify others’ behavioral patterns in order to better predict their behavior. If you’re like me, however, you just find the whole processing of labeling unsettling and would rather maintain some degree of distance from it. Unfortunately for us, there is not yet a cure for medical student disorder and, despite the growing number of people afflicted, there probably won’t be one forthcoming.