Between rigorous coursework, crazy rotations and challenging residencies, there’s no denying that med school can take a lot out of someone. If that’s a path you’ve decided to take, there’s no doubt that at some point you have question why, exactly, you are doing what you’re doing.
Many students reach their breaking point, mainly because they aren’t approaching the issue correctly. Below are 11 tips every student should follow to help prevent burnout while in med school.
Join a Peer Group
Just as your undergrad had organizations you could join to connect you with people with the same interests and career aspirations, so too, do med schools. What’s more is you can even look beyond that. Perhaps the hospital you work at has some options from which you can choose.
Maybe there’s a local branch of a national organization in your area. Whatever it is, sign up! Connecting with people going through the same things as you will help you realize you aren’t alone in your struggle. You might even learn some tips and tricks for coping you didn’t know about, as everyone deals with it differently.
Stay in Touch with Your Family/Friends
This is an especially important tip, as many students find themselves halfway across the country—sometimes even the world—from their hometowns when they start pursuing their dreams. That lost connection can be a lot to deal with on top of everything else you’re feeling/experiencing. Hearing a familiar friendly voice every once in a while will help remind you where you come from, and will even give you an opportunity to get your mind off of your responsibilities at hand.
Do Yoga…Or Any Form of Exercise Really
With such full hectic schedules, it’s easy for med students to let their fitness routines fall by the wayside. This is a grave mistake, especially considering the fact that some rotations and hospital shifts can turn into marathon sessions that put your stamina to the test.
Yoga is a good option because it focuses on mental and physical strength/relaxation; however, that is not some people’s cup of tea. So whatever your exercise is of choice—just do it. Not only will your body thank you, but so will your mind. Exercise gives you a chance to completely detach from the world and simply focus on yourself and the moment, which brings me to my next point.
Don’t Discount the Importance of ME Time
Going along with the previous point, it’s important to take time—even if it is just once a week—to check in with yourself and tune out everything else. Reassess where you see yourself going, what you want out of life, etc. Turn off, or at least ignore, your phone—even if just for an hour to start.
Tell yourself you won’t check emails, you won’t let yourself be “available.” Do this now while you’re still a student, because once you’re a doctor, that all goes out the window. Your life becomes a state of being “on call.” So, take advantage of it now and don’t feel guilty, you owe this to yourself.
Talk to Those that have Been There/Done That
All of the teachers, professors, doctors and surgeons around you are really just resources in disguise. Every one of them had to take the same path you’re on right now, and look at them, they made it out alive and even have something to show for it. So, if they make themselves available for casual chats/discussions, take them up on it. Voice any concerns you might be having—even if they don’t have any concrete advice or solutions for you, you can be sure they’ll know just what to say.
You represent the proliferation of their field, so many of these people would love to take on the role of mentor. If nothing else, it will give them the opportunity to talk about themselves, and who doesn’t like that?!
Start a Journal
For the more introspective of you out there, I suggest starting a journal. Actually I suggest everyone start a journal—no matter who they might have already talked to—because if allows you an easy way to track progress, emotions and all-around highs and lows in your life.
Journaling forces you to analyze your feelings of the day and be honest with yourself. You can’t deny what you felt yesterday because it’s written clear as day on the previous pages. So, the next time you’re on your way home after class, the hospital, whatever, stop off and first pick up a spiral or composition book, your sanity will thank you.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
I had a friend who would question EVERYTHING every time she received something lower than an “A” on an assignment. She would begin to doubt herself and her direction, thinking she had “lost it,” when in reality she was still miles ahead of the pack.
Sure, to this day she’s still widely successful with the rest of us in her rearview, but she unfortunately takes the whole thing for granted being too focused on all of the NEGATIVE things in her world.
Being wrapped up in her failures, she failed to notice all of the great things she had going for her and how far she had come. Many med students are guilty of this. They fail an exam, blow a presentation or make a mistake so obvious after the fact they aren’t sure how they ever did it in the first place. This is all pointless and exhausting.
Instead of dwelling on the bad, focus that energy on the good. Think of all of the hard work you’ve invested up until now in this cause. It has not been an easy road, but you have made it thus far with somewhat flying colors. Celebrate that, and give yourself a break when things go less than smoothly—after all, you are still a student who is learning and perfecting his or her craft. Make the mistakes now rather than later when a life, reputation and career could be on the line.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Expanding on the thoughts in the previous tip, this one is near and dear to my heart. I have always been guilty of worrying about “what the other guy was doing” in comparison to me, and it wasn’t until after I left college that I really became aware of it. Who was I to compare myself to this classmate I’ve known for the maximum of maybe a month? I didn’t know her story, what led her here, where she’d been.
As hard as it may be, you need to remember and remind yourself that everyone’s story is a little different and completely unique to them, so yes, they may do better on that exam than you. Yes, the head surgeon may like them better. Yes, they may be more of a natural than you for that procedure. But here’s the kicker, that’s OK, because just as they have their strengths so do you. Rather than dwelling on the ways in which they outshine you, focus rather, on the ways you can combine each of your strengths to do greater good.
Get Some Sleep, You’ll Need it
Just as I mentioned before to take the time to enjoy “me” time, you should also make sure you get sleep when you can. I know with the schedule you’re likely keeping regular sleep seems like a fairy tale of the past, but as soon as you become a real doctor, you’ll likelt have even fewer opportunities to catch some Zs. So do it now while you can.
Besides your mind and body can definitely use the rest.
Steer Clear of Alterative Forms of Energy
Don’t take any unnatural supplements to “stay wired and awake.” Don’t down energy drink by the gallons—just don’t. You’ve invested far too much time and know way too much studying the harmful effects of these things than to ignorantly partake in them. As a soon to be medical professional, it is up to you to set a good, educated example. Besides, these supplements can be quite damaging to your system, imparting more bad than good.
So no matter how badly you think you need them to stay awake, just say no and opt for natural, healthier methods like exercise and rest for energy. Don’t cut corners when it comes to your health, especially since you’re supposed to be looking out for the health of others.
Pick up a Hobby
A great way to take your mind off the everyday stressors you are dealing with is to spend your time doing something you love when you have the chance. Maybe for you it’s playing the trumpet, or perhaps painting abstract art. For others it might be reading a good book or going for a hike. Whatever it is, do it when you can. Not only will it help take your mind off of anything that might be overwhelming, it will help remind you just how big the world and your life is.
It will keep you from becoming that crazy workaholic that has absolutely no perspective and will ensure you’re well-rounded.
No matter what you hope to get out of medical school—the skills to become a great pediatrician, the dexterity of a great surgeon—whatever it is, chances are you will be challenged getting there. To stay sane, give some of these tips and tricks a try, you’ll likely be glad you did.
About the Guest Blogger – Leslie Johnson is an avid health and nutrition blogger on mastersinhealthcare.com. As a mother, she is particularly passionate about teaching children about nutrition, health, body image, and exercise. If you have any questions for Leslie, feel free to leave them here.