How this medical student adjusted her study schedule for better self-care

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Sometimes I ask myself why I chose medicine when things get tiring, and we do the same thing repeatedly with a career with such high demands. I think about how we are missing out on our 20s or 30s, and it’s been making me question life, especially when I feel more like a robot rather than a human. During such times, I often reflect on how I felt during the first year.

I remember my first year of medical school. All I wanted to do was sit in the library all day and finish work. I rarely gave myself free time. I would wake up early, even if I hardly slept (insomnia was a common thing for me during the first year), and make my way to the library. When I arrived, I could not get started as I was sleep-deprived. I remember taking multiple breaks to go on my phone or Netflix. Working hard or hardly working? I would get up and talk to friends who were also studying in the library and unthinkingly spend time instead of studying. I would frequently turn down opportunities to go on walks/runs, eat at restaurants, hike, watch a movie, paint, all because I felt that if I did not sit in one spot all day and “study,” that I would not achieve the level of success that I was striving for. I continued to take multiple breaks in the library to go on my phone, peruse Netflix, and converse with friends. What I was really doing was procrastinating.

I did not realize how counterproductive my habits were until this year, my third year. After three years of medical school, I learned that I could have taken productive breaks all along. I did have the time to watch a movie with a friend and get back to studying; I did have time to go and take a nice long walk; I did have time to eat at a restaurant once a week. I could have slept an hour or two longer instead of feeling as if I had to rush to study. Now, I have learned how I study best and how much time and diligence it takes to understand concepts. With this, I can incorporate fun things into my schedule. Making a schedule at the beginning of the week has assisted me in my endeavors and breaks. By including how much time it takes me to do certain tasks and engrave studying materials in my head (e.g., board materials), I can scribble in activities for me.

Be realistic in your planning and be open to know that life happens, and many things may change your schedule; that is OK. The key is flexibility in your schedule to be a student but also be you. To find the best strategy for me, I have used flashcards, reading textbooks, writing out notes, typing out notes, daily practice questions, and videos to aid in my teaching and found the resources that best worked for me. With trial and error, I found that flashcards and textbook reading did not work for me, so I eliminated those from my toolbox and kept the rest. I highly recommend Googling “study techniques for medical school” and explore what other students have done to get ideas and create a mosaic that will work for you and possibly expedite the time it will take to find your best study strategy, I did this for Step 1 and COMLEX 1, and this allowed me to create a schedule with self-care activities.

I know in medical school people will tell you, “Make time for yourself.” When you start as a first year, you may believe that’s easier said than done, but it’s true. If you can find the way that you study best, and that may come with trial and error, you can have time to have fun. Productive breaks can reduce the risk of burnout.

“I have to study” will be a very redundant phrase for you but allocate time during the week to do activities that make you happy or bring you peace. I have been making Friday nights, along with a few hours on another day during the week, as my time off from being a medical student to do things that I love, such as draw or cook, take long enjoyable walks, or eat out.  I feel like as a first-year medical student, I was living this anti-social, anti-life. Learning more about myself and what is best for me has allowed me to feel less like a robot and more like a human. Choosing a career in medicine is difficult, but it is truly honorable, so honor and take care of yourself.

Aveena Pelia is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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