Bring Balance Between Studies/Clinical Training and the Rest of Your Life
Get used to balancing your training with the rest of your life early in medical school. The challenge to work-life balance has several peaks during medical training:
- Studying for Step 1 exams in 2nd year
- Transition to clinical clerkships
- Workload of residency
Importance of Work-Life Balance
We asked several medical students from different schools the most important advice they have for other medical students. They all recommended keeping a “work-life balance” and mentioned the importance of:
- Time management
- Having an efficient and effective study program
- Taking time from studies for enjoying the rest of life.
Tips from Medical Students on Work-Life Balance:
Start building a routine now so that medical school becomes a new part of your life and does not take over it.4th year medical student
Managing your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being is extremely important to your success in medical school. My favorite quote “You cannot pour into an empty cup” says it all. If you do not take care of yourself you cannot help others.2nd year medical student
Be balanced – Make time to do the things you love to do.4th year medical student
To look more impressive when it comes time to apply to a residency, you may want to join certain groups, shadow a specialist, volunteer at a free clinic, become a student leader, or help in a research lab. However, you will burn out if you try to do too many of these. Find out from 4th-year students or residents which extra activities matter most.2nd year medical student
The following topics describe ways to balance your studies and clinical training with the rest of your life.
- Time Management
- Study Tips – Optimizing Your Studies While Maintaining a Work-Life Balance
- Play, Interests, and Entertainment
- Balancing Family and Medical School
The habit of setting priorities and focusing relatively more effort on higher priorities and less on the rest will serve you well throughout medical training.
Balancing Family Life with Work
Balancing Medical School and Family Life – by Prospective Doctor. A guest author offers several tips in this article on how to help make it work. Briefly, the basic steps outlined are:
- Be sure to spend some time giving your family your full attention. They can tell when your mind is somewhere else.
- Keep your commitments
- For children, find some special time that they can count on from you such as reading a nighttime story.
Play, Interests, Entertainment
Tip: Take a little time to do something non-medical regularly:
It’s easy to lose perspective when focusing much of your attention on your medical education. Try taking an hour or two off each week to do something completely unrelated to medicine. Expand your horizons, for example, by taking the time while you are still in a university setting to join clubs or societies or attend special lectures on topics completely unrelated to medicine or new to you. Or enjoy something you used to enjoy.
Work-Life Balance Resources
Video: Junior doctors look back on their time in medical school and offer advice on how to achieve work-life balance. Work-Life Balance – How to Survive Medical School #05. (Abdaal, A, 2018) Length: 16 minutes
Work-Life: A list of external resources on Work-Life Balance while in school including multiple resources on balancing work with family life. Also resources in the following categories: Test Yourself, Finding Balance, Personal Productivity, and Spirituality. By WellMD, a source of support for wellness for physicians at Stanford Medicine.
Effective Time Management for Medical School: Blog on time management for medical students. By Code Blue Essays, a physician-founded company that provides expert editing of medical application essays.
Tips for Optimizing Your Studies While Maintaining a Work-Life Balance
Make study time a priority in your life. Schedule a time for studying each day and be diligent about following that plan. Make sure your study time has both a start and finish. Start with day one of classes, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the heavy workload. Attending lectures and taking notes can save you time because it forces you to pay attention in the moment; if you listen to a recording instead, you may be tempted to press pause.
Prioritize information: Admit that there is too much information to learn it all at a perfect level. Notice that the information you are given in medical school is not all of equal value. Give information a priority and find a way to mark that priority in your notes or highlights. Focus more of your study time on the prioritized material. To set a priority, consider the relative importance of a concept. Consider whether the information will help you:
- be a better doctor,
- on an exam,
- prepare you for your personal career goals in medicine.
Attend classes in person and look for the emphasis given to a topic by the professor. They tend to emphasize what is most important, information you would not get if you just read their slides for the lecture.
Review test banks for licensing exams for questions related to the topic you are studying. Your teachers will tend to emphasize these topics on exams. This helps prepare you for licensing exams at the same time.
In addition to prioritizing what to learn, consider how well to learn something. For example, the names of a long list of enzymes you probably won’t remember in a year and will not use in medical practice and will be able to look up when you need them could be something to just put in short-term memory.
Focus on what you don’t know: The first time you review your notes before an exam, highlight information you don’t know. With each pass through your notes, mark off what you now know in a darker color. Go over just the remaining light highlights right before the exam.
Become aware of and use your study habits to your advantage. Identify your strengths in studying and use them; identify weaknesses in studying and try to improve them.
Proactive Learning In Clinical Training and Medical Practice
The transition to clinical training from pre-clinical requires more self-directed learning (Cho, 2017). This requires:
- Planning (goal setting, reflecting on your existing skills and gaps)
- Monitoring yourself (track your attention and do self-testing)
- Self-regulating (follow your plan, modify it as needed).
External Resources on Study Skills for Medical Students:
Lessons in Medical School Study Strategies: Includes tips on making the shift from undergraduate studying to medical school studying, how to study efficiently, and how to adapt your studies to your learning style. By Medical School Insiders, a medical education company run by a team of doctors.
Study Tips from the Perspective of a Medical Student – Includes 3 common study mistakes and tips. By Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences. Highlight:
- “You must understand the material by translating it into your own language. You must then review the material over and over again.”
Learning Your Way
The following information and external resources help in developing a personalized best way to study.
Education Planner helps you understand your study habits and learning style so you can modify habits and adapt your studying approach to match your learning style. By EducationPlanner.org, a career and college-planning website/PHEAA, a national provider of student financial aid services. Learn about your:
Learning Style: One of the following ways of learning may help you learn more easily, effectively, and enjoyably. If so, it is called your learning style:
External Resource: Learn Your Learning Style to Maximize Your Med School Study Power (Davidson, 2018): Describes learning styles and offers tips on how to leverage your style to help your studies. By Med School Tutors, a commercial medical school tutoring company with medical student, resident, and attending tutors.
- Cho KK, Marjadi B, Langendyk V, Hu W. Medical student changes in self-regulated learning during the transition to the clinical environment. BMC Med Educ. March 21, 2017;17. doi:10.1186/s12909-017-0902-7. PMCID: PMC5361773. PMID: 28327147.
- Davidson, Z. Learn Your Learning Style to Maximize Your Med School Study Power. August 29, 2018. Med School Tutors.
- Education Planner. EducationPlanner.org, a public service of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). Copyright © 2020