Running from my Problems: How Exercise Kept me Moving through Medical School

26 Mar 2021

By Jessa Fogel

People ask me all the time how I manage to run every day in medical school, and I usually answer in the same way: “I just really love it.” But sometimes love alone can’t get you out of bed at 5:30 on a rainy Monday morning, and that’s where the answer gets longer.

I started medical school two and a half years ago, leaving my gap-year job in rural Alabama to move to a city I barely knew. While I loved the excitement of starting a new chapter in my life, the change necessitated some form of continuity, something I could carry over from my former home. For me, that continuity came in the form of exercise. I’d been a competitive cross-country skier in college, and when I graduated and moved to the decidedly snow-less Alabama, I satisfied my craving for activity by running every morning before work. When I started medical school, exploring my new hometown on foot every morning before class initially felt like a soothing ritual to help me adjust to the transition.

Eventually, however, I realized that I had classmates who shared my love of running—classmates that I hadn’t yet gotten the chance to know beyond a few minutes of small talk at orientation. On an uncharacteristically extroverted whim, I invited a couple fellow students to get together for a run one weekend. That first run was followed by another…and then another…and then another. Within a few months, we started going every morning, meeting at the same time and place before class. Although we all came from different states, went to different colleges, and ranged in age from 22-36, running was what brought us together—that, and a deep love for bagels and coffee.

While we ran, we chatted about anything and everything. Family, research, school, history, politics, marine biology, our favorite foods, our preferred running shoe brands—no topic was off-limits. The more miles we ran, the more conversations we shared, the more coffee and bagel shops we discovered around the city, the more we found we had in common. We became a team, tackling local 5Ks and half marathons together, supporting each other through the anxiety of exams, celebrating each other’s birthdays, and gathering together for potluck dinners. We even bought matching “medical-themed” socks to wear to local races adorned with cartoon depictions of various organs and cute phrases like “I heart your guts.” Charming, I know.

Maintaining my physical fitness and having a solid group of friends to support me through that first challenging year of medical school was invaluable. Running allowed my body the movement it craved and cleared my mind to focus on studying, while building strong friendships kept me from bearing the most stressful days alone. To those who wonder how we crazy runners do it, my only answer is that it feels like an escape, rather than a chore. Running, especially with others, is no longer something I have to “fit in” to my schedule—it’s something I can’t live without.

Three members of the running group ready to tackle a trail half marathon in the rain!

Jessa Fogel is a third-year medical student at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, hoping to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery. Originally from Bow, NH, she received her B.A. in biology at Dartmouth College, with a minor in international studies. Prior to medical school, she spent a year working for a community health non-profit in Greensboro, AL. Outside of medicine, she enjoys running, biking, drawing, and searching for the best coffee in Nashville. 

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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