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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
3. Always remember that we are striving to provide the best care
4. Never give up no matter how hard the task may seem.
5. Look forward to the completion of the goals you set.
West Virginia University School of Medicinebwold@mix.wvu.edu
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