7 Tips on how to be Happy in Medical School
A guest post by Marcus Clarke BSc, MSc
Medical school. There are no two words in the English language that strike as much fear in the young person who dreams of a career in medicine. Popular culture and rumor have given us incongruent views of what to expect as a med student or intern. The only consistent truth everyone seems to agree on is that medical school is hard work. So to the student embarking on this grueling but ultimately rewarding career-path, following are seven tips to help you be happy and reduce your risk of burnout in medical school.
Expect and embrace study
It’s a graduate / post-graduate education. Expect study. Expect lots of it. Think 60 hours per week study time. Go in knowing what you’re going to face and embrace it. Develop a robust study plan and stick with it. Factor in time to research as well as write. Factor in time to trawl through the masses of peer reviewed journals you need to keep up with. Factor in the time needed to debrief and zone out with friends and lament the amount of work you all have in front of you!
Consider a tutor
While it might not seem palatable to admit you need a helping hand, looking at your workload realistically and recognizing your weaknesses can help you stay happy in the long run. Better to begin your journey with open eyes and an open heart and ask for help, rather than suffer in silence and risk your happiness and your grades.
Take out a subscription
Check in with your lecturers and tutors early in your degree and ask what medical journal or subscription would best help you to keep abreast of the happenings in the medical field. Background knowledge and familiarity with a good quality journal can be invaluable and time saving through your entire degree, and students can oftentimes get discounts on subscriptions.
Make, and make use of, friends in your year level
The benefits of socialising and friendship cannot be overstated. Studies have long documented the adverse effects of being friendless, and there are few other times in a person’s life where having peer support is more important than during medical school. Having a cohort of friends who are experiencing the same stressors as you is invaluable in allowing a mutual, shared empathic space for you to debrief and receive practical support and advice. Plus, a little dab of medical student-humor may help relieve stress and lighten your mood after a tedious lecture.
Get enough sleep
Sleep has amazing restorative properties. Adequate sleep can improve mental functioning, well-being and restore your physiological self to peak condition, ready to take on another day hunched over medical books and journals. Cut back on other areas of your life, but don’t sacrifice sleep for study. Your study-time will end up being blurred, unfocused and a wasted effort.
Be okay with being selfish
Time may be the biggest enemy of the med-school student. With the long hours of study required, the unpaid internships and the simple challenge of just living, there might not seem enough hours in the week to get through it all. To retain your happiness, you may need to learn to be selfish. Say no to certain people or events that you know will be time-wasting and eat into your study time. Turn down the invites to the latest dorm party. And most importantly, don’t feel bad about doing so. This is about your career.
Remember your end goal
Above all else, to remain happy in medical school, remember your end goal. Remember why you’re putting yourself through the pain, the poverty and the stress. Write it down. Pin it up on your notice board and read it every day. I am doing this to make a difference. I am doing this to save lives. I am doing this for me.
Yes, it will be hard. It will likely be one of the hardest things you ever have to go through. But medical school can also be the most rewarding part of your life. Follow these simple tips to keep your happiness and sanity intact and actually enjoy your journey into the field of medicine.
Marcus has a degree in psychology, a masters degree in health psychology and has worked within the NHS as well as private organizations. He started psysci – a psychology and science blog in order to disseminate research into bite-size, meaningful and helpful resources. These interesting and insightful resources often help people on the right track to improving their lives.
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