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Medical Student Perspective: Coping Strategies to Prevent Burnout During Medical School

Medical school can be an exciting time of growth and learning. It is also an intense and highly demanding environment. The competing strains on your time can stretch your usual coping mechanisms. Chronic stress can carry physical and mental health risks along with burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged or too much stress. Too much stress can cause emotional and physical effects that prevent the body from carrying out activities of daily living. It may also compromise work and/or quality of care provided to patients. Thus, it is vital to prevent burnout in medical school. Below are some strategies to help prevent burnout:

  1. Use time wisely. Don’t overextend with activities. It can be tempting to sign up for many extracurricular activities and opportunities that arise during medical school. Seek to find a balance between work and play. Avoid activity overload by setting limits around rescheduling your work time to accommodate others and reduce or reorganize some of your other obligations so that you can provide attention to your studies. Prioritize what has to be done first and what is more valuable in terms of your personal or professional goals.
  2. Take care of yourself through exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep. When we are stressed, we may limit the amount of sleep we get to try to fit more into our schedule. Although our bodies may be able to handle this additional stress for a short period of time, we are better able to manage stressors with plenty of sleep. Taking the time to learn about good nutrition as well as spending time to exercise can also both reduce stress and increase our energy level. Just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking has been shown to help boost mood and lessen stress.
  3. Continue healthy and strong relationships and do away with any toxic relationships. Social wellness is important and involves nurturing friendships and support systems. As social creatures, we are not meant to thrive in isolation. It is healthy to spend time with others to gain support or to gain encouragement. Make spending time with people you enjoy and trust a priority.
  4. Seek resources to manage debt or financial concerns. These resources may include talking to a financial aid counselor at school about scholarships or other available options, attending seminars or other events to learn how to properly manage loans, and viewing financial aid webinars or websites online.
  5. Explore relaxation techniques or programs that may incorporate mindfulness, mediation or yoga. Schools or community programs often offer some of these wellness activities. You can also access free resources for these activities electronically on the internet and through phone apps.
  6. Ask for help. This could be through talking with a colleague or a faculty member. Other options include seeking professional help by talking to a counselor or through the use of mental health services. Many schools have student counseling services or student health services usually at little to no cost and are confidential. They may include individual, couple, and group mental-health counseling.

More about physician burnout.

Edina Wang
Wake Forest University School of Medicine
Class of 2017
ewang@wakehealth.edu

Other resources:

Fitness and Nutrition

Fitness

Nutrition

Financial Wellness

Mental Health

Depression

Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss

Stress and Anxiety

Back to October 2016 Issue of IMpact