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Starting Medical School in the Woods: How Creating Adventurous and Mindful Physicians (CAMP) Fosters Student Community at Michigan

Having always dreamt of going to medical school, I long imagined what my first days would look like: meeting my classmates in lecture, exploring the anatomy lab, and receiving my white coat. I never expected to start school in a tent in the woods, carrying my food and clothes on my back. However, through Creating Adventurous and Mindful Physicians (CAMP), I was able to spend my first few days of this new chapter surrounded by nature, bonding with my classmates, and feeling empowered and strong as I stepped out to fulfill my dream of becoming a physician.

Hailing from different colleges, states and past lived experiences, myself and ten other students met at an Ann Arbor park and were shuttled north to begin our adventure. Despite coming in as strangers, we quickly bonded as we divided up gear to carry in our backpacks and took turns reading the map to navigate as we hiked. Some of us were experienced backpackers, and others had never camped before, but regardless of background, we all shared the feeling of being in a new place with new people, excited and nervous to take on the next four years.

Being heavily involved in Outdoor Education in undergrad, I recognize the special place that nature can be in bringing diverse groups of people together. There are few experiences that mimic the genuine joy of jumping into a lake at sunset, or gathering around a campfire to make s’mores. Nature creates an authentic space where you can show up as you are, offering opportunities that are both fun and challenging, but ultimately allowing for team-building, self reflection, and growth in a way that you can only find when you “unplug” from life outside of the woods.

Choosing to start medical school “unplugged” from life back in Ann Arbor offered a chance to jump fully into this new chapter. One of the most meaningful moments on this trip for me was one night after we had finished hiking, sitting around the fire with my new friends. Our M2 and M4 leaders had passed out paper for each of us to write three of our biggest fears about starting medical school and a bowl to place the papers in when we were done. We all sat in silence for a bit as we reflected about what to write, and shyly placed each of our fears into the bowl. Then, our leaders began to anonymously read out each fear we’d written down. I remember being shocked that so many of the things I was nervous about were read four or five times, meaning other people had the same fears. “Everyone will be smarter than me” or “I won’t fit in” suddenly felt a lot less scary when I realized that I was not the only one who felt that way. Sitting under the starry sky in the Michigan wilderness, medical school suddenly felt a lot less intimidating, and I felt a lot less alone going into it.

Starting medical school with CAMP empowered me to feel at home at the University of Michigan Medical School, feel capable and confident in myself as I took this next step, and equipped me with new friendships that still build me up today. As I begin to wrap up my M1 year at Michigan, I now serve as the President of CAMP and am working with my incredible CAMP team to plan the next round of trips for our next class of students. As was my experience with CAMP, our goal is to create a safe environment for students to build confidence, make friends and feel at home at Michigan.

Starting medical school is daunting, but starting medical school with new friends, new memories and a renewed confidence in yourself and your abilities can make the transition as seamless as possible. I am so grateful for the ways CAMP has made me feel welcome at Michigan Med and so excited to help create the same experiences for students who come after me!

Students from my CAMP group celebrating at our White Coat Ceremony!