medical school stress

6 Methods To Deal With Medical School Stress

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At many points during your third-year rotation, you’ll have to deal with medical school stress and burnout.

I have no time for myself as a third-year med student. I’m tired on my rotations.

I’m stressed. I’m overworked. I’m losing a part of myself.

I want to avoid burnout and find balance.

Those are just some of the common dilemmas that I often hear from third-year med students. If that sounds like you, I promise you are going to love this post.

In this post, I’m going to give you my top nuggets so you will overcome medical school stress, find balance in your clinical rotations, and make it your most successful year in medical school yet.

Note: If you like a video form of this post, you can check out my YouTube video below! Make sure to subscribe for weekly content if you enjoy this one!

Before we get into our six nuggets on how to find balance and avoid burnout during your third-year rotation, I want to ask you, a couple of things:

Are you struggling with learning how to study?

Do you want a step-by-step way?

If you do, linked below is a free guide on exactly how I studied for every single rotation.


How To Study For Clinical Rotations

This is a guideline that I used that helped me crush my shelf exams and get honors on my rotations. Check that out!

how-to-study-for-clinical-rotations (1)

6 Nuggets To Deal With Medical School Stress

These six nuggets that I’m about to share with you have not only helped me overcome my medical school stress, but also made my third-year rotations my most successful year yet.

That’s also the same time where TheMDJourney grew to almost 200,000 visitors in a year and its YouTube channel grew to over a thousand! I wrote a couple of books and made video courses too!

I have found time for myself and I also enjoyed my rotations a lot.

I’m going to give you those tips because I think some of them, if not all, are going to apply to you. You could at least make a few adjustments to your daily life as a clinical student.

So, let’s get into the tips to help you lessen your medical school stress!

Nugget #1: Schedule Your Fun First

medical school stress

This is a tip that I love giving for just productivity and balance in general. Most students don’t get on the surface level of this and it’s really hard to apply as a clinical student.

But on the surface, what you do is to simply find all of the time requirements that are un-adjustable. This pertains to your clinical schedule.

If you have clinic or if you are in the hospital, you generally know what time ranges you can be in the hospital.

You may go early into the hospital on your wards in as early as 5:00 or 6:00 AM and you may stay as late as 5:00 or 6:00 PM unless you have a call to even later.

You roughly know what those days are going to be like.

If you know when your call cycle is or what your clinic schedule is, overestimate a little bit and give it some buffer room.

But outside of those hours, don’t schedule your studying time first!

Don’t think about what chapter you’re going to read of the review book, because you’re most likely going to just come home and nap!

Instead, find one hour for yourself. It may not happen every day but find one hour for yourself and schedule something that you enjoy.

This may be going to the gym, sitting on the couch while eating some ice cream, or watching your favorite TV show or Netflix.

It’s totally okay because you are finding a balance. You’re finding time for yourself.

You could also just spend time with your significant other if you’re married.

Coming home from a clinical rotation is hard because you’re tired and you don’t have time for your spouse. So, find that one hour to have dinner together or to go on a date!

After those are scheduled for every single day possible, you still may not be able to do it on a call day or on a day that’s a little unpredictable.

We’re going to talk about studying in one of the other nuggets but schedule your wellness first.

Once you do that, you’ll find that in addition to being a medical student, there are also elements of ‘You’ scheduled into your life.

This is an extremely important tip and I give this in a lot of my posts, so make sure to schedule your fun first to lessen medical school stress.

Nugget #2: Avoid Bulky Study Strategies and Schedules

medical school stress

Tip number two in managing medical school stress deals with studying.

As a clinical student, you don’t have time for tons of practice questions and time to read every day. 

You can’t just do thousands of flashcards and wrap it up with a bunch of practice exams in addition to the bulk of videos you watch.

It’s going to require you to have a very lean machine when it comes to your studying.

That means; one resource for your viewing and another resource for your questions. Then, you need to have some system of evaluating.

If you want to know the system, I’m going to give you the system that I used in this free guide and you’ll see step-by-step on how I did it.

At the very end of the post, I’m also going to forward you to where you can go next if you want to learn how to study using more advanced techniques.

But again, you have to go as lean as you can. You can’t try to use every resource!

There are some great ones out there. I recommend a lot for my rotations, but I still recommend that you use no more than two or three (ideally one if you can).

Resources like OnlineMedEd are amazing because they’re an all-in-one inclusive resource. In that way, you don’t have to go through a lot of different things and avenues to learn what you need to know.

Again, find lean study strategies!

Here’s a quick example…

Normally when we study, we go through some type of book, and we try to review, take notes and then assess our learning.

But you may not have time for your practice question any longer!

Take note that in your internal medicine rotation, you may just have way too many questions in the shelf exam or in the board exam that are too broad for you to read a huge text and do all the questions.

What you can do instead is; do the questions first and evaluate what you’re missing.

You may not have learned about this on your rotation, but if you’re not using a review book, just use those questions to evaluate what you don’t know.

Make a list, use some flashcards or Anki if you love using this software. Then, review your weaknesses as you’re doing your questions.

You can go back to the review book to look at what you don’t know instead of reading a book and then trying to evaluate what you don’t know.

Do the questions and then use that to guide you on where you need to be spending your time.

Another good example of a lean machine when it comes to studying is using small bits of time to do flashcards or quick reviews on pieces of paper.

This may include your lunch hours or times when you’re just waiting for your attending. There’s a lot of room for you to be effective!

I was studying while walking back and forth from the hospital to my car.

Those are usually 10-minute walks, so 20 minutes of studying there took out another half-hour I didn’t have to do at home.

Again, be lean and be very efficient.

Nugget #3: Under Commit Yourself By 7 Hours

medical school stress

Nugget number three may seem very strange to a lot of you, but you want to under commit yourself by 7 hours to rid yourself of medical school stress.

Is that a random number?

Not really. I think it’s the perfect number!

It’s even a good time where we could sleep if we’re low on sleep.

But basically what you want to do is; after you schedule your fun first and before you even start to schedule you’re studying, find seven hours to just block off for nothing.

You may do something fun during that time. You may sleep during all those 7 hours.

If you have a Saturday when you don’t have any rotations or you may be on a clinical schedule, then make that day off!

Give yourself at least 7 hours to not do anything that includes studying.

If you are on a rotation like internal medicine or surgery where a day off is very hard, find 7 hours throughout your week.

You may have to be more flexible if your rotation requires more of your time, but usually, you should be able to find some 7 hours.

They don’t have to be at the same time at all but find those hours and once you get to those timeframes, you can be productive.

If you feel like studying, you can! If you want to go to the gym, you can! If you want to sleep, do that!

Find those 7 hours and then find time for your studying.

If you understand the idea of Parkinson’s Law, it says…

“Work will fill in the time that you allocate to it.”

So, if you give yourself 10 hours to study, you are going to take 10 hours to study. If you give yourself 6, you are going to take 6.

You’re going to be probably just as effective in those 6 as you are in the 10 hours.

Use the Parkinson’s Law method. Take 7 hours away from your study bucket, and give that to yourself for rest, doing absolutely nothing, watching TV, or watching sports.

You pick what you want to do! But those seven hours are going to be golden.

Most of your classmates are probably going to fill it in with studying which is probably not going be that effective.

Make your studying lean and then use these 7 hours before you even schedule you’re studying.

If you try it, you probably will find that it works as it worked wonders for me. In fact, those are the 7 hours I used to put back into this blog and get to the point that it has.

Again, find the 7 hours and then take them away from your study allocation.

Nugget #4: Plan 1 Meal With Someone Outside Medicine

medical school stress

The fourth nugget to lessen medical school stress is really big for anyone who feels like they’re losing a part of themselves.

Maybe they feel like medicine has now taken over their life. Now, they’re really rethinking the decision of going to medical school and becoming a physician because they don’t want to see a life in the future that looks like that.

They want to see some balance.

So my tip is finding one meal a week that you can schedule with somebody that’s special to you. Someone that’s outside of medicine and don’t talk about medicine!

If you have a significant other, this is really easy. If you have a spouse, this is even easier.

Schedule one meal, away from your home or your first aid, and don’t talk about medical school. Don’t talk about your clinical rotations.

Instead, talk about them and about you!

This could be your friend, your parents, your colleague, or whoever they may be, but don’t talk about medical school.

This is a great example of how to force yourself to have balance in an environment where it feels like it’s medicine all the time.

You have to choose when you don’t talk about medical school. You are not a medical student 24/7, 365 days a year!

It may feel like it. But to avoid that, you have to do these small, forceful techniques to put yourself out there.

If you are like me who has a significant other, I would usually see my fiancé once a week or once every other week. We would find some time to do dinner or just go hang out.

I would try my best (sometimes I fail), not to talk about medical school. By doing this, you can be there with that person and you cannot be a medical student, which sometimes sounds glorious.

So, try that out for any of you who feels like you are losing a part of yourself.

Nugget #5: Prioritize Your Self Health

medical school stress

Nugget number five is one that’s probably obvious, but it’s like a trick to being efficient and is extremely effective to avoid medical school stress.

Basically, the tip is to watch your nutrition, watch your sleep and minimize your caffeine. It’s all about taking care of yourself in terms of health!

Eat Well:

The first tip in this broader category is using meal prep.

I love cooking on my day off or on my 7 hours and I try to at least cook for half the week. That way I didn’t have to be unhealthy by always eating at the school cafeteria.

I didn’t have to waste a ton of money and usually, my food tasted just as good, if not better than the cafeteria options.

Keep that option out for you!

If you’re new to meal prep, there are plenty of options and training online on how to do it.

It’s super effective! It can help you save a lot of money and it’s very easy.

Get Enough Sleep:

Sometimes all I would do is come home, especially if it was a call day, and I wouldn’t commit to any studying and just go to bed.

That’s because I wanted my seven or six and a half hours every night. I didn’t always get it, but that’s really more on me than my clinical schedule.

You need to prioritize sleep as much as you prioritize your study.

Minimize Caffeine:

This last tip is really hard especially for a coffee lover like me but you have to limit your caffeine.

The more caffeine you take, especially on those busier rotations, the more tired you are without it.

You’re going to be dependent on it. It’s going to be a struggle in your clinical or third-year rotations if that’s basically your energy boost.

You need to find those natural times of energy when you can.

Turn to coffee when you need to but avoid caffeine supplements whenever possible.

Take a detox! I did one for six months during my clinical rotations and it was probably one of the best things I did for myself.

Nugget #6: Find and Remember Your Golden Nugget

medical school stress

Golden nugget number six is probably the most important tip you can use to lessen medical school stress.

When we’re trying to find balance, or when we’re stressed out, sometimes it’s a time-management issue or at other times it’s a mindset issue.

Sometimes, students hate their rotations and they’re not looking at it the right way!

I did this too when I was doing my surgery rotation. I wasn’t going into surgery, so I wasn’t at my happiest when I did the rotation.

I was trying to find reasons and excuses for why I was miserable during surgery. I was complaining about the long hours or the patient population.

That was not the field of medicine I want to go into!

No offense to anyone going into that field. It’s an amazing field, but It’s just not for me.

I was finding excuses and, thus, I was being miserable because it was an eight-week rotation.

But during the rotation, I stopped halfway and said, “What do I enjoy about surgery?”

I enjoyed patient care. So, I tried to find as many opportunities to spend on patient care.

Sometimes, my attendings would let me leave the operating room to go check on the patients post-op. Since I enjoy that, I did that more.

Find your golden nugget!

*Here’s a video on finding your golden nugget if you’re interested!

You’re going to need this multiple times. You’re going to need multiple golden nuggets during your third-year rotation in all of med school.

But you’ll usually get a result. For example, you may work hard on building a relationship with the patient and it works out amazingly well.

The next time you see a patient, you’re going to try to put just as much effort because you want that result.

You may not always get it, but you know that the result was good enough that the effort is worth putting in every single time.

For you, that golden nugget may be learning something or being able to teach something.

I love doing that, which is why I do all these YouTube videos.  I love finding something “clicking” and then teach that to somebody.

Thus, I continue to find those opportunities where I learned as best I can and then try to teach. It doesn’t work out successful all the time, but I try my best.

Those are my golden nuggets. For your clinical rotation, you’re going to find those golden nuggets.

You’re going to have to try to find those patient interactions, those examples of where you studied hard, or those where you did really well on your shelf exam or Step Two exam.

Whatever it may be, find those little reasons! Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Evaluate whether it was it worth it to put in the hard effort to get that result you enjoyed. If so, then, try to continue to put that effort in day in and day out.

What you’ll find is that the time will go by much faster.

The more golden nuggets you have, the more motivations you have to keep you going through the day.

You’re still going to come home tired and still want to take a nap, but you’re going to enjoy the process a lot more.

It’s going to be quicker in that process where you experience medical school stress and being burned out.

You don’t want to go to the third year saying, “Oh thank God that’s over!” because that’s going to be your life in some form or fashion.

You’re going to be in the clinic or in the wards. You’re going to be a doctor when you graduate.

You don’t want to just wait until it’s over because it’s only going to get tougher.

I’m about to become a resident and there’s already some anxiety coming through thinking of how busy I’m going to be.

Once again, find those golden moments to get you over those humps that are going to come with you being tired or unmotivated.

Hopefully, that little bit of motivation at the end helped you. If you apply those nuggets, you will not only survive third year, but you can enjoy and thrive in it.

Time For You To Handle Medical School Stress!

If you enjoyed this post, kindly answer these quick questions:

What’s your biggest takeaway from this post?

What’s one tip that you can apply (maybe something you haven’t started yet) that you could see having some potential to make your clinical rotations a little bit easier?

Tell me those! Just go ahead and comment down below.

I’d love to hear which among the advice I’ve given would really resonate with you.

Before I conclude, I want to give you an opportunity to learn where to go next!

If you are a clinical student, medical school stress and being burned out are probably not your only problem.

You want to learn how to study better, how to get honors, how to do well in Step Two, how to prepare for residency applications.

All of that while being a successful and sane medical student!

If you are interested then you may enjoy one our top books, The Clinical Guide!

The Clinical Guide

In this book you’ll learn all the essentials to crush your rotations, board exam, and do it all with minimal stress and time!

Check out the book (and associated course) here!

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 

Hopefully, I helped you a little bit on your journey. Thank you so much for joining me on mine.

I will see you guys in the next one!

Take care my friends…


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