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Balancing life and medicine

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

As a medical student, I have heard the words “You’re doing medicine? You must have no time for anything else then!” countless times! It is not an exaggeration to say that medical school can be stressful and can take up a lot of your time if you let it. So how do you focus on your academics while still leaving enough time for yourself?

Prioritisation is key

Often, you’ll feel like there are too few hours in a day and too many things to be done, but don’t panic! Take a step back and regroup before using some of these tips to help manage your workload more efficiently.

Tip #1: List down your to-dos in order of priority - you’ll be able to distinguish between the things that are time-urgent and those that can wait a little while. This frees up some of your time and allows you to tackle the most pressing matters first. Try using the 2 x 2 Eisenhower prioritisation matrix to plan your tasks.

Tip #2: Organise your time using a planner or calendar. This helps you manage your commitments and ensure that you haven’t overbooked yourself. Writing your plans down also means that you can set realistic goals and have a wider perspective of your priorities for the day ahead.

Take a break when you need to

You'll find that your efficiency is much higher when you're fully rested.

Reminder #1: You may feel like you’re wasting time when not doing something productive like revising or keeping up with your extracurricular commitments, but you’ll find that your efficiency will be much higher if you’re fully rested.

Reminder #2: There is no shame in admitting that everyone has their off days, weeks or even months; just make sure that you complete the essential tasks. If you find that you’re unable to meet deadlines, make sure to inform your lecturer ahead of time - your university likely has policies in place that take extenuating circumstances into account, but they have to know that you’re struggling in order to help you.

Safeguard your mental wellbeing

Being in medical school can become overwhelming very quickly, so make sure that you’re putting yourself first and dealing with things in a safe and healthy way.

Being in medical school can become overwhelming very quickly, so make sure that you’re putting yourself first and dealing with things in a safe and healthy way.

Tip #1: It can be tempting, especially in your first year at university, to get involved with all sorts of extracurriculars. However, take care to not have too much on your plate. Try to keep commitments to a maximum of 3 major ones. This helps you perform at your best without compromising quality of your work and maintaining a good work-life balance.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to say no. Commitments have a way of piling up quickly and swamping you if you keep accepting them, so be sure to set boundaries and expectations of the work you are expected to perform.

Be consistent with your work

Tip #1: Find people to help hold you accountable. Examples include having a study group to go over the material covered in class that day, or a friend that you can call to do your work together with. If your focus drifts, your study buddies can help bring it back to the content at hand. In addition, with a study group, you can utilise a whole host of study techniques that you wouldn’t be able to if you are studying on your own, for example role-playing for OSCEs and interactive quizzes.

Tip #2: During your study sessions, make sure to fit in set rest times. This ensures that you get the respite you need while also keeping you from getting lost in a rabbithole of YouTube and Reddit for 2 hours!

Tip #3: Reward yourself when you’re done with your study goal. You deserve it!

Build a good support system

It is vital for you to maintain your social relationships while you’re in university. Their support will get you through medical school and beyond, and the friendships you make here will be one of the closest and longest-lasting ones.

Tip #1: Make it a point to go out with a friend at least once every two weeks. This helps you take a break and do something fun while also fostering a closer bond with your friends.

Tip #2: Be honest and open with your friends. You shouldn’t need to keep up an illusion of perfection in front of those you can trust, and having the freedom to let them know that you need some space or assistance with academics can take a huge weight off your shoulders.

Do activities you enjoy

Upon entering university, you may feel pressured to involve yourself with tons of medical societies and volunteer work, especially if you see your coursemates doing the same thing.

Reminder #1: You shouldn’t feel like you need to be involved with everything medical - there are so many different activities on offer so get out there and explore your interests! It’s safe to say that there’ll be a little something for EVERYONE in university - some outlandish examples from the University of Nottingham include the Bellringing Society, Kettle Soc (for tea enthusiasts) and Hide And Soc.

Reminder #2: Have fun! You’re in university to learn how to be a doctor, but that’s not all you’re here for. You have the unique opportunity to study in the UK, so get out there and take advantage of it. Go on holidays, go on night outs, eat out and enjoy yourself doing the things you love. This is the last chance for you to embrace your youth before you enter the workforce, so make the most out of it!

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