Medical Student Perspective: 4 Tips to Maintaining Happiness and Sanity in Medical School
Most of us have heard the horror stories of medical school. Walking through the lecture hall, I heard bits and pieces of conversations: "I only sleep three hours a night." "I haven't been to the gym in months." "I've been living off of frozen meals and canned soup." For as long as I can remember medical school has been associated with losing control of one's personal life and forgoing essential needs for the sake of studying. Although these experiences may be true, (or slightly exaggerated) I'm here to say that it is possible to maintain your happiness and sanity while also achieving greatness in the classroom. In fact, I believe that I have become a better person - mentally, physically, and spiritually - during the time spent in medical school. From the first day I set a few rules that I now follow every day. They are simple and easy and have helped me maintain a balance between studying and my personal life and well-being.
1. Make a schedule.
This rule is by far the most important to balancing school and a personal life. Without a schedule stress is almost guaranteed. Following a schedule was how I was able to make it to the gym every day, keep in touch with my family, and stick to my study plan. Every morning, I would outline my day before I got out of bed. I knew what I needed to accomplish and I wouldn't be satisfied unless everything on my "To-Do List" was done. Even if I had an afternoon off with a few extra hours to spare I tried to schedule something so that I maintained my focus. I found that when I had too much extra time, I became lazy. I would think that I had so much time to study and thus, I could procrastinate. When I didn't follow my schedule I felt panicked and stressed. Those were the times when I lost touch and was unable to take care of my well-being. When I was "out of shape" in my personal life I was unable to study at my best - it's a vicious cycle! Some of the best advice that I can give is: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today!
2. Take time every day to do what you love.
This rule may be tied for first place with "Make a Schedule" and is crucial to maintaining your sanity. You are more than a medical student - you are an individual. Throughout my life I was always active in sports and I loved working out. Being in medical school did not and should not change that. During orientation week I scouted the area for ways to stay active. Fortunately, the school provided us with free access to the gym and intramural sports such as soccer, softball, and basketball. Exercising has become an essential part of my life. Not only is it something that I love, it is also a stress reliever. It keeps me both physically and mentally stable. During stressful times when I find myself wondering whether I have time for the gym I turn to my wonderful friends from medical school. We developed a social networking group through which we send posts and reminders to keep each other motivated to stay healthy and active. I even challenged myself to train and run a half marathon while attending medical school, something I never would have dreamed of accomplishing before then.
3. Embrace the unfamiliar-try something new!
Medical school is unique and so are the students. I am from Western Pennsylvania. It's a fairly homogenous community and I stayed in the area for college. When I arrived at medical school I was taken aback by the diversity. Many people were from different cultures and communities and most spoke multiple languages. It would have been easy for me to find a group of people who were similar to my background, but that would have severely limited my experience. By embracing this new culture around me I was able to flourish. Every year the students at the College of Medicine put on a multicultural diversity talent show. I stepped out of my comfort zone and participated in a Punjabi folk dance, Bhangra, in front of hundreds of people. I met new friends and learned about different cultures. We had dance practice three times per week, which kept me focused and forced me to make and follow a schedule (see Rule #1). So, I say flex your creative muscles and try something new!
4. Remember those who mean the most.
It is important to remember the people that supported you throughout your life. Although I am only four hours away from my friends and family I still am unable to see them more than once a month. I felt that keeping in touch with them in other ways was vital to maintaining my sanity. Every day I would reach out to someone in my family in some way; send a text message, mail a greeting card, Skype, or whatever I could think of. I may not have had time to make hour-long phone calls, but it meant the world to my family that they heard from me even if just via text. On the flip side, the love and support from my family gave me the strength to continue to work hard and stay focused.
The challenges that come with attending medical school have made me a more focused individual. I was able to accomplish things that I never dreamed I could do. I ran a half marathon, danced the Bhangra in front of hundreds of people, and developed new relationships while keeping old ones, all while achieving honors grades in my classes. I am proud of the person that I became during these past few years, and I believe that anyone can accomplish that by finding their own personal balance.
Lindsey Marie Zubritsky