Sammy Siada, MD
We all know the hard work and perseverance that is required to become a successful physician. However, an often overlooked factor is the importance of time management. Juggling medical school applications, doing research in your free time, taking the MCAT, and maintaining a solid GPA are only the beginning on the path to becoming a physician. It only gets harder along the way and this can take a heavy toll on a student’s mental and physical health.
Maintaining your own physical and mental health is of utmost importance since becoming a physician takes 12 – 19+ years of training starting with your undergraduate education. Because of this, burnout is exceedingly common amongst students and trainees. There is good news, however. Learning how to manage your time efficiently and maintaining a work/life balance are two important keys to success. After all, nobody wants to be miserable along the arduous track of becoming a physician. Yes, it is possible to enjoy life and enjoy the work you do before you finally graduate residency or fellowship. If you’re not happy, then what’s the point?
Time management is an essential skill to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle even though you’ll probably be working harder than most other students. The key to this is setting a schedule for yourself constantly. This can be done mentally or you can write down a weekly schedule. Perhaps the biggest advantage of setting a schedule is that it helps you to avoid procrastinating.
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Have a big exam in a week? Start studying today and develop a plan of action throughout the week. This allows you to develop multiple tactics to ensure success: read your notes/powerpoints/textbooks, make flashcards, review with classmates, go to a review class, etc. The key is to not wait till the last second. I know your parents have told you this since time immemorial but this is so important. It not only increases your chances of success, but it also significantly decreases your stress level and gives you the confidence you need going into any
When setting a schedule, be sure to add time for exercise and going out with friends. Make sure you have some time to see your family. Setting your schedule far in advance allows for these things. You don’t have to be in work mode 24/7 to be successful. In fact, working too hard can be to your detriment and it’s near impossible to be in work mode all the time for the over a decade it takes to be a physician. We are all human, so take some time to do things away from school.
There are several things to avoid as well. First, all-nighters are a bad idea and they don’t work. Setting your schedule ahead of time helps to avoid feeling forced to spend the night before the exam studying. Your ability to retain information at 2 AM is minimal and you’re better of resting your brain with a good night’s sleep. Second, alcohol does not help and worsens your sleep quality and can lead to a bad habit. Lastly, we are always surrounded by people who constantly talk about what’s on the test and what you need to be doing to succeed. Don’t listen to these people.
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They only will add to your stress level and make you feel like you’re not doing enough. As long as you set a schedule and work your tail off efficiently, you will succeed. The road to becoming a physician is a long and tortuous one, but the end results are completely worth it. Maintaining a work/life balance are key to being happy and healthy. You don’t have to be miserable, and developing good time management skills will allow you to maintain your mental wellness along this difficult, but fun and exciting road.