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Medical Student Perspectives: Balancing Medical School and Personal Life

Medical school is challenging and time-consuming. It requires focus and dedication. If the appropriate affection is not provided, medical school will divorce you. And although the school of medicine would like the students’ full attention, by nature, medical students are well-rounded, talented, busy people with full lives outside of medicine. Some students are single and like sports, art, concerts, or volunteering. Others are engaged or married and may like to travel or enjoy unique restaurants. Others are married with children and enjoy spending time with little ones at home when they are not at the hospital. Whoever you are, and whatever your interests or responsibilities outside of medicine are, you are bound with all other students, having the same need of achieving balance and happiness. Medical students excel at most of what they do in life, from the classroom to the ski slopes, from physiology to music. It’s ironic that medical schools require applicants to demonstrate excellence in many areas of life, yet straight away ask for your allegiance to academics only.

The rigors of medical school can, however, be managed with personal life in an effective and satisfying way. Let me give you a personal example. I am married and have two beautiful daughters. In addition, I hold many leadership positions on a local, regional, and national level. I am also currently involved in multiple research activities and enjoy volunteering. And, like everyone else, I have many hobbies outside of medicine that I choose to devote time to. Now as a fourth year student, I can honestly look back and say that medical school was a wonderful experience for both myself and my family. My wife and I have never complained about the difficulty of it or the time away. We have grown through the experience, had remarkable adventures, and have felt satisfied with the process and progress.

I would like to provide a few pieces of advice to make your journey smoother, more balanced, and more enjoyable. And since medical students thrive on learning tools, here are 4 M’s for Medical school.

  • Manage: Make a list. Prioritize activities. Consider the importance of them to you and decide how much time you are going to donate to each. Then, stick to it. It’s ok to go to the movies or golf, but work hard at the library, and be willing to forego less important activities.
  • Modify: Make time count. For example, don’t pass the time in front of the television or gaming, but rather use the time to accomplish multiple needed tasks. Get things done quickly and move on. It will feel satisfying and will open doors down the road for personal time when needed.
  • Moderation: Learn to say ‘no’. You don’t have to be a part of every interest group, sit on every council or committee, or go on every trip. Choose just a few activities that you will enjoy and will enhance your learning experience and let the others pass. This is difficult for medical students to do!
  • Meaningful: Medical school goes too fast. It is a wonderful time of life. Make time to play. Enjoy the friendships and the adventures. And yes, leaving the library to go out for Chinese food for an hour is worth it, provided that you work hard when you return.

I hope these suggestions will help you to find balance in medical school. Remember that life as a physician does not necessarily become simpler when you complete the training. Current important activities and duties will likely be replaced with other important activities and duties later on. Therefore, part of your medical training is to learn how to manage many demanding, important activities and excel in them all—similar criteria that you were judged upon in order to enter medical school. If you learn to balance now, it will benefit you throughout your entire career.

Landon Dickson
Chair, Council of Student Members
University of Utah School of Medicine, 2008
E-mail: Landon.Dickson@hsc.utah.edu

Back to December 2007 Issue of IMpact

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