It’s common to lose motivation in medical school. You may even have a streak of difficult days leading you to question why you are doing any of this anyways.
Questions will suddenly arise: Why am I learning this? Why I am working this hard? Why can’t my professors make this more interesting? Who cares about this topic?
There is no fault in feeling this from time to time. It happens to everyone.
This feeling is understandable. Excessive amounts, however, can lead to self-doubt and stress, ultimately leading to burnout. Here are ways you can overcome those days where it feels as if all motivation is lost.
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Why are you going into medicine?
Remember that good old personal statement that you spent countless hours perfecting? Somewhere within that 5000-character essay, you were supposed to explain your motivation for medicine.
If you’re already in medical school, you clearly did a good enough job to get this point across. So turn back to that essay. Back then you were trying to convince a stranger to believe in your motivation. Use your essays now to reignite your original “why” of going into medicine.
Perhaps your reasons have changed or evolved since then. If this is so, then use a day where you are motivated in medical school. Write yourself a quick letter of what your new reasons are to pursue medicine and store it away for future use.
Next time you find yourself in a slump, use these visuals to serve as a constant reminder that things will get better.
Another tool I find to be effective is to take time in my day to reflect on where I am, and how far I’ve come.
As I mention in my About Me page, my family and I immigrated from India when I was a little boy. Coming to the States represented many things, but a chance at a higher education was the most significant. It requires a lot of hard work, for anyone, to come this far. Thus anytime I question if I can make it through, I reflect on the obstacles I’ve overcome, which then seemed impossible.
So on days that you’re losing motivation in medical school, ask yourself why you are here in the first place and use that to push you through!
Take a step away:
Sometimes the best way to love something is to take a break away for a day. Burnout is real and avoiding it is important.
There is an unfortunate sense of guilt in medical school when we choose not to study. Yes, learning the material is important, but not at the risk of your own well-being. If you struggle with this guilt, I’d recommend implementing one of my old tips and have something to look forward to each day.
I do my best to not associate these activities as a reward for studying – I shouldn’t have to feel bad to enjoy my day. So it’s okay to schedule an enjoyable activity early in the day; for me, this is going to the gym. But you can also add something to the very end such as a movie or dinner with your friends.
Revisit your other hobbies:
This echoes the last point. The students I find to be the most relaxed are those who continue to pursue their passions outside of medicine. I have classmates that are interested in biking, cooking, reading, trying new foods, going to concerts, etc.
These classmates are the ones I find to be joyful and leave me with no concern about their work-life balance.
Remember all that wonderful free time in college? What did you do with it? Use some of these activities (the most appropriate ones of course) and make sure they are implemented throughout your weeks to maintain motivation in medical school.
Remember your patients:
The difference between something that is boring and something that is worth knowing changes if you knew someone would depend on you for that information.
It’s true we can always look things up, but you can only get away with so much until you’re 100% Google-dependent.
A great way I find to remember small minutiae of a lecture is to imagine a patient with the particular disease. Picture what the symptoms look like on them versus on the syllabus pages. Who are they? What will you do for them? It’s an odd method, but for some reason these “facts” become relatable and your memory does a great job of remembering that patient and their disease.
Take care of yourself in all aspects:
I dread the days where at bedtime I realize that 80% of my day was spent in a chair. The only form of exercise I had was walking back and forth to my fridge and maybe a workout in the morning. My meals for that day consisted of excessive sugars and hardly anything nutritious.
These are also the days where my motivation in medical school is at the lowest.
Sorry for depicting myself as a couch potato, but try not to be a “chair” potato in medical school. Take care of yourself physically through exercise and via smart healthy meals.
To combat this, when I’m studying at school, I refuse to sit longer than an hour. I’ll force myself to get up and walk around campus. When I’m at home, I’ll go for a short walk in my complex.
For meals, I often try to cook my dinner with nutrition in mind.
As they always say, “Healthy Body, healthy mind”. Take care of yourself!
Use your support system:
Medicine can be a lonely field if you don’t turn for help when you need it. There are many individuals who are going through the same things as you (your classmates) or have done it before. Turn to these individuals when you’re lacking motivation and drive.
I mentioned that family is a big priority in my life. I always Skype or call home every night for 10-30 minutes. These short conversations have been helpful when I’ve found myself struggling or stressed. It also does wonders for keeping me grounded.
It doesn’t have to be your family. Just have a group of individuals you can turn to when the going gets tough. In return, be there for them when they need you.
Go Play Doctor:
One of my key beliefs is that books teach you medicine but patients teach you how to be a doctor.
As a medical student, we’re fortunate to have ample volunteer opportunities to see patients.
Even as a medical student, a patient will place their health and trust in you. It’s a form of privilege that very few professions can say they have. Use these experiences to reenergize yourself when you lose motivation in medical school.
These opportunities in clinics also help highlight what you remember. More importantly, they allow you to practice the elegance of bedside medicine that is rarely taught.
Sometimes the best way to overcome a loss of motivation in medicine is to throw yourself back into the aspects that you enjoy the most, for me that’s patient care.
So there you have it. I hope that some of these tips will help in the next time that you’re struggling with motivation in medical school.
Let me know what other strategies you use to overcome those tough days.
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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If you’re a first or second-year medical student wanting guidance on how to succeed in medical school, read my book, The Preclinical Guide. I provide all the tips I wish I knew day one of medical school. Check out the book here.
Until next time…