Advice for the New Medical Student: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love what I do (or at least worry a little less)

The biggest myth of med school is that you won’t have time for hobbies. When I think back on it, the only people who told me that were people that had never been to medical school. Every med student that I have met and posed that question to, has responded that if it’s important to you, then you will find time for it. For me that “thing” is rock climbing. I completely fell in love with climbing in college and quickly began competing and traveling to climb whenever I could. I was scared out of my mind that I would have to give this up once I came to school. I’ve known people through the years who have given up climbing when going to grad school, and stories like theirs made up my nightmares.

Well, if you haven’t heard it yet, let me be the first to say that there is no reason to lose sleep over things like this. Let me reiterate–if it’s important to you, then you will find time for it. It’s certainly not as easy to keep up with your sports/hobbies/old friends/blogs/etc once in med school, but it can be done. EVERYONE in school has something like rock climbing/amateur equestrian/rollerblading/online dating that keeps them sane. Sure, there are a couple random students who function eerily similar to robots– able to study for 16 hour stretches, sleep 4 hours a night and still volunteer at clinics every weekend. But those are certainly the exception, not the rule.

 

So, my first piece of advice is remember to…

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I climbed four to five days a week at the gym and met awesome people there. This year I travelled to Austin to climb at least 10 times, Hueco Tanks three times, Colorado twice, and Little Rock City once. I have travelled to 8 competitions, one of which was the Collegiate National Championship. Point being, you still have time to do A LOT, if you want to. It isn’t easy to do all of these things–I made sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to be able to accomplish that much. Which brings me to…

 

Second piece of advice, know your priorities.

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Studying and succeeding in school is obviously a top priority for most of us. So what I really mean is know what your second and third priorities are. You may have heard that in school you can sleep, study, and socialize: pick two–this is pretty accurate. For some people school is such a heavy priority that they really don’t have much of a second priority. Don’t get me wrong, I study ALL THE TIME, but I’m not overly concerned with making straight A’s, like I was in undergrad. I have made A’s in medical school, but I’ve also made C’s. It’s a little rough to make the first C of your life, but if you remember that your priorities include things other than simply studying 24/7, it makes that C (slightly) easier to accept.

For me, continuing to climb was really important. For you/others it may include leadership or volunteering positions at school, maintaining important relationships, raising children, running your first marathon, or winning the monopoly world championships (yes that’s a thing).

What this meant, for me, is that sometimes I would skip hanging out with people after school or on weekends so that I could train, travel, or compete. It meant that I studied as efficiently as I could so that I could always get to gym. It meant that I didn’t get as involved with other school-related activities because I didn’t have as much free time.

That lesson I learned the hard way, so I’m telling it to you now…

 

Third: Don’t over-commit

There’s a loooootttt of clubs and activities in med school. In college you were probably involved or even leading a ton of them. In med school I found that it was simply not possible to have the same level of involvement with the increased time spent studying. I overcommitted at first and ended up flaking on a bunch of events, because I didn’t realize how much time studying and other activities would take. Ultimately I decided to stop signing up for anything at all…something unthinkable in undergrad. But it helped me to focus on what was important in my first semester.

By second semester I became involved with a few more things. It took me a while to really figure out my study plan and how to balance my life, and it wasn’t until then that I started getting involved. Other people seemed to figure this out a lot quicker than me, but it’s important to again remember that people’s priorities are very different. If your main goals revolve around being involved in clubs and volunteering, then you will probably figure out a way to devote time to that.

 

My fourth piece of advice: you have to study a lotfind a way to make it fun, take breaks, and incorporate it into your regular routine.

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This is probably the part that makes me seem a little weird. I don’t know what everyone else did, but here are some of the ways that I studied:

  • I studied at the gym ALL the time. This was important for me, because it incorporates my first two priorities. I would do 20 flashcards, climb a route, and repeat. It worked well. People got used to seeing ‘that weird girl who never talks to anyone’. (Note: that when you study medicine in public you may occasionally open up a picture that would make other people want to vomit. Be aware of your surroundings).
  • I scheduled my preceptor session (a couple hours you have to spend working with a doctor) at a clinic that was a 30 minute drive away from school but a 15 minute drive from there to my gym. If I was going to drive to a clinic, I might as well drive to one that was on the way to the gym.
  • I would study at home a lot. Some of the things I did to take breaks during my studies included:
    • YouTube yoga sessions in my living room
    • Water color painting!! (I’m not even a painter. I just picked this up a month or two ago as a fun study break activity!)
    • Studying flashcards and doing push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc when I got the card wrong
  • I sometimes invited climber/med school friends over to my apartment to do combo study/climb session on the home wall my boyfriend built for me in my bedroom (yeah–he’s probably better than your boyfriend). One person would call out study questions, while the person on the wall would answer. (side note: if you’re reading this and you are a climber at BCM, message me and we can climb:) )

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  • I travelled often to Dallas or Austin to either climb or visit family, and why waste that travel time when you can study?! Ride the MegaBus and study on the way–there’s wifi!
  • I study via flashcards often, so I pulled the flashcards up on my phone practically anytime that I had to wait around (i.e. while riding the train to school, waiting in line for coffee, at red lights–that’s safe right?).

 

And lastly, cut yourself some slack.

A lot of us are naturally very hard on ourselves. If you constantly talk yourself down for not living up to ridiculous study or grade expectations you’re going to have a really rough time. Make plans that are ambitious but achievable, and if you don’t quite achieve them, re-think what’s not working: your goals or your study habits?

For me, this was seriously one of the hardest things to do. For the first time in my life I wasn’t succeeding with (relative) ease. I wasn’t even the top HALF of my class. This is the case for approximately half of all med students–I did the math. For many of us it’s a difficult thing to accept. For some of our parents this is a difficult thing to accept.

Find a way to celebrate the little victories. I wish I had more specific advice on how to do this, but I think it’s something that takes time to accept. Just know that other people are feeling the same way.

 

Medical school is hard, but you WILL find your own unique way to make it work.

 

Never give up!

Sarah

 

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