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Medical Student Perspective: Tips for Finding Balance: Running Through the Journey of Medical School

The rigor of preparing for course exams, shelf exams, and the looming board exams is emotionally, physically, and mentally taxing. Despite the challenges of completing medical school, it is important to remember the necessity for work–life balance. Not only is it important for maintaining success in school and a life-long career, but it also gives a broader perspective that will help us relate to the patients we will help every day. As the USMLE Step 1 exam approached last year, I decided to intentionally set a goal to help me maintain life balance under the rising stress load.

It was mid-December, and I was gearing up for the last semester before Step 1. I happened to come across a bulletin announcing a local half marathon. Although I had never run more than 6 miles at a single time, something intrigued me about the event and I decided to sign up. I knew it would force me to maintain a regimen of exercise, encourage me to eat healthy, and more importantly give me time to break away from studying and enjoy the outdoors. To top it off, the proceeds from the event supported a local charity. Over the course of the next several months, I gradually increased my running distance and was able to convince my friends and family to help me train. I would bike with a good friend from medical school every weekend, and we would discuss our courses and encourage each other that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

As spring began to turn into summer, I realized that the work of studying and training for the half marathon was soon to pay off. My race was June 1, followed by my Step 1 exam on June 15. I continued to train and study every day. With the help of my ever-energetic golden retriever, I was soon able to run the distance of the half marathon. Luckily, we found a 6.5-mile trail that went to the state line. Round trip it turned out to be approximately the distance of the race. The first 2 miles of the run were always the toughest. My body would resist the pounding against the dirt, I would get thirsty, and as the days got hotter I would feel drained from the sun’s relentless rays. Once I got into the rhythm of the run, everything started to click, and I found the strength to continue. Surprisingly, it mirrored the challenge I would have with long hours of studying. At first I would resist the flood of information, but then it would interest me. At the end of the day, it was information necessary to learn to be able to provide the best care for my future patients.

June 1 finally came, and I woke up early to get everything ready for the run. I ate a light breakfast and drove to the parking lot where the bus would pick us up to take us to the starting line. I felt slightly nervous about what to expect, but soon enough the gun went off and I began running with thousands of other people. The first 10 miles were surprisingly uneventful, but when I hit mile 11, the sun reflecting off the blacktop began to zap my energy. It took all of my willpower to keep moving, but eventually I was across the finish line. I was completely spent, but I had finished the goal I set out to accomplish.

Two weeks later, I woke up early again and went on a short 2-mile run. I showered, ate breakfast, and drove to the testing center. Like the half marathon, the Step 1 exam was a grueling event requiring intense focus and perseverance. In the end, it was another goal completed after much preparation. After the exam was over, I took a week-long vacation. I immediately started brainstorming another idea for maintaining work–life balance. When I got home, I planted a small garden.

The 5 tips I have for finding balance during medical school:

1. Set a goal for maintaining life balance that is outside of your comfort zone.
2. Learn to rely on friends and family when the stress begins to build.
3. Always remember that we are striving to provide the best care for patients.
4. Never give up no matter how hard the task may seem.
5. Look forward to the completion of the goals you set.

Brandon Lucke-Wold
West Virginia University School of Medicine
bwold@mix.wvu.edu

Brandon Lucke-Wold

Back to May 2014 Issue of IMpact

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