Author: Brittany Chan
Today, not unlike a second-year med student, I planned to study at my house all day. When I told this to my friend, she said, “It’s beautiful outside! You can’t stay indoors.” I looked out my window and decided she was right. Clear blue West Texas skies beckoned me into my backyard, where I lay on a hammock with my iPad, gently swinging as I read about chronic gastritis and H. pylori. Music from my favorite soundtrack played from my headphones. I was happy.
This is quite a different picture from the stereotypical med student, hair frazzled as she runs from lecture to lecture, cappuccino in one hand and five books in the other. Many pre-med students ask me if it’s worth it. I heard no one sleeps in med school, they say, or do you have a life? I know many students who love med school, but I’ve also spoken to a few who feel dissatisfied, stressed, and burnt out, wondering if medical school truly was the right decision. I’ve felt this way too, at times. It took me awhile to get used to medical school and find the study methods that are right for me. But I made up my mind not to burn out, and to actually enjoy medical school. One of my friends asked me how I do this, and I thought my response would be helpful for any other medical students who might be feeling discouraged right now, or for pre-meds who wonder what really lies ahead.
So, how can you make your life as a med student a bit easier? These suggestions may not work for everybody, but here are some of the things that have worked for me, at least through the basic science years.
Lean on your loved ones.
Nothing means more to me than having the support of my friends in medical school. Whether they are fellow med students or not, friends are always good for venting to when you feel stressed and hanging out with when you need a break. Don’t let your friendships fall by the wayside when you get busy! Take the time to call, email, or grab lunch with a friend. It’ll break the monotony of studying, and you’ll have strong relationships to turn to whenever things get a little rough. Same goes for relationships with family or significant others.
Make studying FUN.
This may sound a little dorky, but do anything you can to make studying more enjoyable. In undergrad, I used to buy colorful spiral notebooks that I would have fun using. Now, I have stickers on my laptop that make me smile whenever I see them. Any excuse to play with my electronics makes me happy, so I use my iPad to take notes in class. Listening to my favorite music while studying also helps.
My study group also helps me enjoy my study time. I am fortunate to have found a group of friends whose study styles match mine. We study together almost every day, and I can honestly say I have a blast every time we’re together. We share snacks and make up the craziest mnemonics. For those who think they study best alone, I strongly encourage you to reconsider. You don’t have to study with your group very frequently, but in my opinion, it helps to have company sometimes. I can’t even count the number of times that one of my study buddies has helped explain an important concept to me or point out something I completely missed in lecture that turned up on the exam. You might even strengthen a few of your friendships, too.
Seek a change of scenery.
If you ask me where I study, my answer will be, “It depends.” I do study on campus the majority of the time, but sitting in the same study room day after day can get so mundane. Some of my other favorite study spots include the library, Starbucks, my room, or as I discovered today, the hammock in my backyard. I have classmates who study by the pool, at the park, and at Barnes and Noble. Find a few different places where you can concentrate, and mix it up a bit when things start feeling monotonous.
Only do extracurricular activities you truly enjoy.
With residencies becoming more competitive every year and average Step scores climbing, medical students are always thinking of how to strengthen their CVs and make themselves stand out. It can be tempting to want to be an officer of every club, to do research in several different departments, and to volunteer at all the organizations around town. Overfilling your plate will only lead to unnecessary stress. Choose a few organizations or causes you are truly passionate about, and pour your efforts into those. You’ll be excited about your activities instead of viewing them as obligations.
Take some time out for yourself.
Maybe you love reading, drawing, or working out. Don't lose the part of yourself that's not a med student! Every day, take at least an hour to unwind and spend some time alone or doing something you love. You'll feel a lot better when you have to go back to the books.
Don’t forget why you came to med school.
Most of us came here because we wanted to heal people and make a difference in their lives (sounds like a cheesy personal statement, but it’s true). If you find yourself losing your passion, talk to a physician mentor that really loves their job, volunteer somewhere, or shadow a specialty you’re interested in and see if you can reignite the spark. Occasionally, I volunteer at Texas Tech’s Free Clinic, and every time I am able to help someone in the community, I remember why I wanted to be here in the first place.
Medical school is extremely challenging, and at times you may feel overwhelmed and stressed. It happens to everyone, including myself. But med school does not have to be four years of sleepless torture. It can actually be fun! I feel like I’m slowly working toward a goal that I have had for myself since childhood. I don’t know what rotations in third- and fourth-year will hold, but I anticipate that those years will be demanding and rewarding as well.
I wish good luck to all the pre-med and medical student readers out there, and I hope you found at least some of my advice helpful! Feel free to post your own tips in the comments. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer any emails.
About the author:
Brittany Chan is a second-year medical student at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. She is also a candidate for an MBA in Health Organization Management from the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. Originally from the Houston area, she graduated summa cum laude with degrees in psychology and general studies from Texas Tech University in 2009. In addition to blogging, Brittany enjoys reading, crafts, and spending time with family and friends.