The number one question that I get from people is how do I manage medical school, keeping up with my blog, traveling, and just finding time to do other things that I enjoy. First of all, let me just say that it didn’t just happen overnight. The first semester of medical school was 100%, full-force, medical school robot mode. I did do some blogging on occasion, but I just didn’t have that much time because I put all my time into getting the highest grade that I could get. Throughout the course of two years, I have tweaked my study habits and priorities to get where I am now. So here is the truth. How I ‘manage it all,’ or at least struggle through balancing the things I love.
Balance is Key… but it IS hard.
The quick and dirty answer that I give people is that balance and planning ahead is key. This is 100% true, but what is also true is that it is not easy. If you want to balance a whole bunch of things besides just being a medical student (which is hard enough in and of itself) you have to accept that you are going to be stressed out… a lot. I give major props to all the mom and dad medical students out there (they TRULY are superheros).
It took me quite a while to figure out how much time I would spend studying vs. blogging vs. whatever else I was doing at the time. And sometimes I would just throw my plan away in the midst of a very stressful day and take half a day off to recoup and not explode. First semester… that stressed me out even more because I would panic about taking half a day off of studying. But none-the-less, I made it through the first two years and I’m still standing.
You Can’t Have it All
I am all about empowering people to have a balanced life and ‘have it all.’ But it does come with a price. You CAN have it all… but you won’t be the top of your class. Everyone in medical school is smart. Some need to study less than others, but still everyone is smart. If you want to go to medical school, blog, travel, spend a large chunk of time with family, or whatever else you want to do during medical school… you have to accept that you are not going to be number one in the class (well, at least for the majority of people, like myself).
A lot of what you learn in medical school is memorizing. So if you don’t put the time in, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. While you are spending time blogging, hanging out with your family, hiking, taking trips or whatever else… there will always be someone in the library studying while you’re not. So the fact of the matter is: during all those hours you spend doing other non-medical school things… someone IS studying.
Study Smart, Not Hard
Another classic piece of medical school advice. But it really is essential. What it means is figuring out how to spend less time studying, but still retain the same amount of information. This is different for everyone. You will have to figure out your own way to do it and it will take you a while. Here is how my journey with this concept went:
How I ‘Study Smart’
First semester I would pay attention in class, try to take some notes, then go home and write out my notes (not word for word– but what I thought was important). If I was able to write out all my notes for the day, I would try to review them before I went to bed. When the weekend came around, I would re-watch lectures, read my notes, take notes on my notes, make flashcards, memorize everything, and try to read ahead for the next week. This is an awesome plan and it does help you learn. HOWEVER, I figured out how to study WAY less and still make the same grade.
First I started to take notes during class (make charts on the computer, flashcards during class, etc.). Then I would only review the hard lectures for that day after class. On the weekends I would just try to get through each lecture once, but really work on understanding rather than memorizing every little detail. Eventually I started to read through lectures/take notes on OTHER lectures during a lecture. Then when I got home I would watch the lectures on double speed. This is just one example of how I saved time. You just eventually learn what you can cut out and what you can multi-task on to save time but still learn what you need to know.
Also, while you do figure out ways to save time… your brain really does adapt to absorbing a ton of information. The first week of medical school seems impossible. But by the end of the two years, you are still getting the same amount of information each day, but your brain has adapted to taking in that much information and making it stay. Medical knowledge also builds on top of each other, so that helps as well.
If you want to have a blog, or travel, or have a leadership position, you have to be introspective and look at the big picture of life. What do you want out of life? Do you want to be a neurosurgeon and have your work be your entire life? If so, maybe spend more time studying and less time blogging. Do you want to work with humanitarian organizations as a doctor when you get out? Then maybe traveling, learning new languages, reading non-medical books will help you out if it gives you a better picture of what the world is like. Figure out what your end goal is before you cut down all of your studying time to make time for other things.
Another note on prioritizing is money. I know that I want to travel on breaks, so I have to plan ahead for that financially. This means planning ahead and figuring out how to travel as cheap as possible… but it also means saving money because traveling is going to cost you at least something. Check out my post on how to get cheap flights for more info on how to travel on a student dime.
Make the Most Out of What You Choose
All in all, you just have to find ways to make the life that you chose work. If it isn’t working, change it. If you want to do all of these extra things in medical school, accept that you aren’t going to be number 1 in the class and move on. Life is going to keep going whether you are stressed out, exploring the world, studying 24/7 or just floating by. Figure out what is important to you and find a way to make THAT work.
I want to be a doctor. So if it comes down to it, studying takes priority. However, I also know that I don’t want to be a doctor robot. I want to learn about the world, learn new languages, reflect on everything through writing, taste new wine and all in all just learn more about life than just medicine. So for me, spending time away from the books and learning about policy, culture, physics or whatever else, is important. And I have also just accepted that the life I chose is stressful and requires sacrifice. But sacrifice in what areas is the real challenge. I’m convinced that all of us will be continuously figuring that out until we die. And that’s just how life goes!