Like Bert and Ernie, you can’t name one without the other. Yes, medical school has stressful moments, but many of the reasons we’re stressed can be avoided.
If you’re currently in med school you can find examples of a handful of students which are always calm and chill. It can seem at times like they’re delusional. Maybe they’re not taking school seriously. Then you see them in action. These classmates are the ones you know will ace the exams and be the doctor you’d send your family members to.
So how can we be more like them? Below I discuss the top 7 avoidable reasons med students are stressed and how to avoid them.
1. You Don’t Ignore Your Classmates Enough
We get it all med students are smart. Years of studying, memorizing, standardized tests, and some good luck got us to this point. But now we’re compared to others who have also done the same – the margin of talent is not as large as you may have been used to.
So it’s easy to compare yourself when Student A keeps acing his exams. You wonder why you can’t figure out med school like them.
Regardless of how well you do, Student A will always be your benchmark. This is not how we should be living.
In the end, even if you reach your goals of Student A’s level, you’ll find another peer who excels even them. Thus the journey of comparisons is just an endless cycle where you’ll be disappointed more often than not.
How do you overcome this?
Set your own goals. Are you trying to get an A on the test because Student A makes it looks easy or because you think you can work hard for one yourself? They’re both two different mindsets.
If you’re on a rotation/course which you want to master then, by all means, aim high.
If you miss that’s okay. Every missed success story now will help you reach one in the future.
Learn from your mistakes and you’ll surely be better over time. You’re the only competition you need to beat day in and day out.
2. You have Poor Time Management Skills
Hours have gone by and you’re shocked to find that you’re not very far from the starting line. We’ve all had this happen to us.
The difference between Student A and the stressed med student is that Studnet A rarely has this occur.
They already have their masters in time management (MTM). Let’s be honest, this is much more useful than their Bachelors in Biology.
I’ve discussed some tips on time management before in previous articles:
How to Plan Your Most Productive Day
Keys to Being Productive in Medical School- Part 1
Productivity in Medical School – Part 2
The Miracle Morning Routine in Medical School
Ideal Evening Routine In Medical School
Daily Habits of a Successful Medical Student
A quick summary would be:
1.Plan out your day the night before.
2. Work with sharp focus an hour at a time. Place your phone on silence and turn off your wifi if you don’t need it.
3. Work on your most important task first.
4. Schedule a time block for every required task of the day. This prevents worrying about item C on your to-do list when you’re supposed to be focusing on item A and B first. If you schedule a time already then you won’t need to worry as much.
5. Account for things going wrong by adding 15-30 mins before and after each task. This will give you either extra relaxation time or time to complete the previous task.
3. Medical School is Your #1,2,3 Priority
I get it, you want to be a doctor. You’ve worked hard to get to this point. Thus it makes sense to continue to work hard. No one is arguing that you shouldn’t.
But excessive stress in the name of a future goal is tricky. Especially in medicine where your goal goes from: 1. Doing well on the MCAT 2. Getting into a good med school 3.Doing well on step 1, 2, 3. 4. Getting into a good residency. 5. Getting into a good fellowship. 6. Finding a good job.
It never ends
Every step in medicine requires continuous hard work to reach a new pinnacle. But the nature of the field doesn’t allow much time for celebration.
In a way it’s a good thing. Med students are not a complacent group. We aim high and go after our goals. This has worked well for us in the past, and we believe the additional stress is just a formality or roadblock we must go through.
But while you’re working hard now to hopefully reap the benefits a few years down the line, you’re missing on the joys of today.
We sacrifice other priorities like family and friends, personal development outside of medicine, and personal health. I’m sure you’d want to progress in all aspects of your life 5-10 years down the line, not just medicine.
So while med school is very important, don’t forget the other priorities which make your life whole. Don’t sacrifice family time, personal health, and outside learning in the hopes that you’’ll one day get to it. It likely will not come if you don’t force yourself now.
4. You Schedule Medical School First:
The dreaded problem of only having 24 hours in a day. There’s simply not enough time to fit lectures, reading, studying, eating, sleeping, relationships and more.
Perhaps we should just admit defeat. Every student in med school should feel lucky to have free time right? Right??
Go back to med student A. While you know him/her to be smart, you also know them to frequently spend time at the gym, with their family, or relaxing at home. Again he/she makes time management seem like a non-issue.
How do they always seem on top of their lives?
These students are amazing at fitting med school in their lives, not their lives into med school.
If you give yourself 8 hours to study, you’ll complete your studies in 8 hours. Many of us have done it.
However, if you only give yourself 5 hours to study because you have a movie date with your significant other, then you will finish studying in 5 hours.
This is the common application of Parkinson’s Law. Time to complete a task will fill the time that is allocated.
To properly use Parkinson’s Law properly I always recommend scheduling your life before scheduling in med school. At the start of the week, if you know you want to attend 4-6 activities, you include them into your calendar. Once these are set in stone, you obviously have to find time elsewhere to read and study.
Yes, it’s true that this becomes trickier during clinical years when your hours aren’t set by you. Still, you’d be surprised when schedule your life first, ample time for med school still exists.
5. You Forgot Your Why:
Why do you want to go into medicine? This is the question we’re all expected to answer when applying.
At the core every one’s answers are similar. Some personal experience has highlighted the power that medicine can have on the lives of others. We want to humbly use that power to create change in the lives of our patients.
But at a deeper level, there are also other elements which we often ignore or don’t admit to why we’re becoming physicians including:
– Family Recommendations
– Safety/Financial Returns
Don’t get me wrong, most of us med students are amazing and altruistic people. When stressed, however, we tend to focus our why’s on the deeper level reasons and forget our core why’s.
While we may write in our personal statement about an experience which led us to this point, we often forget that reason when we’re stressed. We don’t reflect on that personal statement when we’re irritated, sleep deprived, and stressed.
To overcome this first identify when you’re stressed out – this shouldn’t be very hard.
Next, identify what’s causing your stress. When identified, remind yourself of your core why’s. It becomes much easier for me to study when I think back on some of the personal experiences that led me to pursue medicine.
It’s all about optics and mindset. Stress is manageable when you’re constantly reminded by your why’s. If you forget why you’re on this long road, then you succumb to the stress.
6. Looking Ahead Instead of Realizing the Now:
I hate this about medicine.
Time and years to practice all make sense. But it seems like we sacrifice a good deal of our sanity. This is our doing.
We can still enjoy medical school, can enjoy residency, and then can enjoy being an attending.
We spend too much time looking to the next two years or 4 weeks instead of focusing on the topics/patients we’ll be learning about today.
Going back to our Student A example, they’re the kind of student who often can vividly reflect on their experiences. It seems like they’re always introspecting on daily occurrences.
Since they take the time to find an impactful lesson in each experience, they live more in the now then do in the future.
We’re trained as med students to always look ahead to our next goal. Unfortunately, we forget to acknowledge that today is just as important as tomorrow. Both are equally as impactful, so don’t sacrifice one for the other.
I still remember telling my med school interviewer that I wanted med school to be an experience I remembered as a positive 4 years and not just a stepping stone. Do the same with every element of your life and you’ll be well on your way to Student A status.
7. You Don’t Take Care of Yourself:
It’s ironic how we can be so poor at taking care ourselves and somehow plan to care for others.
If you’ve said any of the following then you have some work to do:
– I haven’t worked out since….
– Last time I cooked for myself was…
– Haven’t done my laundry/dishes in….
– Haven’t bought groceries…..
– Haven’t called home since….
The list gets embarrassingly long but the lesson is short, take care of yourself before you plan on taking care of others for a living.
This includes sharpening up your diet, exercise, and personal routines.
Once you’re a resident or attending extra time will be even rarer. Thus either you address the above issues now or allow them to become worse down the road.
If your personal life is like a well-oiled machine, then stress is significantly (p<0.05) reduced.
Hope you enjoyed this post! Next step is to identify at least one of the above seven reasons you plan on working on. Just spend a week and see the effects it has on your stress levels.
Together we can work to get to Student A status.
If there is something specific you’d like me to address in a future blog post, comment below or email me at [email protected]
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Until next time…