Medical school is tough, there’s no way around that. But there are a few things you can, and should be doing that can make it a lot more manageable, and sometimes even fun. You have to take initiative and do the right things, often things that you don’t feel like doing because you know it’ll lead to your success down the road. Here are some habit that we have taken up and seen other successful med students use that you should consider as well.
1) Wake Up Early
This one sucks to do, specially on those cold winter mornings where you just want to roll up into a burrito and stay in bed. But the reality is we all only have 24 hours in one day and a great way to maximize that time is to rise early. This gives you a head start on life and you are up before most people. You don’t even necessarily need to work during this time. You can use it as an elaborate morning routine that feels good for you and gives you energy and happiness. Personally, I like to get up early and do work, specially work that I don’t want to do because my will power is highest in the morning. As the day progresses, I like to move towards tasks that don’t require a whole lot of activation energy. By rising early and doing whatever work you need to do, you free up time later in the day where you can just relax or go socialize and do hobbies. This is how you achieve some semblance of “balance” in medicine and get to enjoy the process. If you’re going to be waking up early, you also need to sleep earlier. Not everybody needs 8 hours of sleep. Get as much as you need and adjust accordingly.
2) Schedule Your Weeks And Days
We go over this more in our time management post, but it is vital that you schedule out your time. You’d be shocked to realize how much time you waste if you actually looked at how you are using it. Sit down at the beginning of a block and input all major dates: due dates, exams, mandatory sessions etc. Then every Sunday, sit down and schedule out the week starting with mandatory things like lectures and sessions that you have to do whether you feel like it or not. Then put in hobbies, social events and non-medical things. It’s very important to schedule these things because that’s the only way it happens. When you schedule something in, you tell yourself it is important and good for you and it must be done. Otherwise it’s easy to come home tired and not “feel” like going to the gym or to a social event. This leads to complaining down the road that “med school sucks” or “it’s taking my life”. Although in some stretches this may be true, for the most part if you schedule your time and make non-medical things a priority that have to get done, it’s more than manageable.
3) Pre-Read+Make Notes
Another annoying one in the moment that saves you a lot of stress and cramming in the long run. Go through the next day’s lectures and just understand the major concepts of what is to come. Make flashcards/notes on this stuff so that when you go to lecture the next day, it’s the second time you see the material. You already know the jist of it, and now you can just focus on specific details/exam hints. We go more into this stuff in our How To Study posts but the reality is that there is a ton of information you need to learn in medical school and doing it efficiently allows you to actually enjoy the process. By doing this, you’ll learn in a way that allows you to process the information more effectively and hang on to it longer all while saving time in the long run.
4) Meal Prep + Exercise
It is very important to take care of your health in medical school and no, you’re not “too busy”. The reality is that every stage of becoming a doctor gets busier and more difficult. The time you have now is the most time you will ever have. There is no point of being a hotshot successful doctor with money in the bank account if it costs you your health and body in the process. Like anything else, this will take prioritizing on your part. No one is telling you to be a bodybuilder or bikini model but you need to do something for your health. Meal prep saves you time, money and keeps you healthy. With crockpots and youtube, you can make a lot of healthy, good tasting food these days. I cook every Sunday for the week, keeping 3 days in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. I never have to worry about what I need to eat or running out of meals. I love cycling so that is my physical activity of choice. When the weather is nice, I do it outside with friends or spin classes/gym cycling in the winter. Find what works for you, not somebody else and prioritize it. Just start with simple habits: eating out less, drinking more water, stairs instead of elevator etc. Then work your way up.
5) Prioritize Non-Medical Things
One of my biggest fears coming into med school was the horrors of SDN and r/medicalschool that I would not have a life and never have any time to myself. I was “wasting” my 20s by going to med school. This, like many things on the Internet, is far from the truth. If you take the initiative and control all that you can, it’s more than possible to enjoy your time medical school and leave with great memories and experiences. You need to remember that you are not going through this alone. You get to make life-long friends and memories with people in your class and the people that you work with if you position yourself for it. Instead of self-loathing, try to prioritize having fun and enjoying yourself. Specially year 1 and 2, you have a lot more control over your schedule so manage your time right and schedule in time for fun; whatever that is for you. For some it’s going out to the club, for others its rock climbing and hobbies. Find what your thing is and do it with people you like and this way, you’ll get to enjoy the process and look back fondly on medical school.