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How To Stay Sane As a Medical Student

Medical school is tough. Every year has its own challenges. During the first year, you’re adapting to a completely new environment, trying to figure out how to study, make friends, and beginning to figure out what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Second year? You have USMLE Step 1 looming over your head. Third year is difficult because you are constantly moving around, working in new teams, and being evaluated for almost everything you do. Fourth year is supposed to be the best year but there are sub-internships to worry about, residency applications and interviews, and match day. With all these potential stressors, how do medical students stay sane?

I think the key to this question fundamentally depends on being introspective and understanding who you are. You need to know what makes you happy and what gives you rest. You must understand your limitations and also optimize your productivity. I have noticed that the happiest medical students practice the following:

Stay consistent, especially with studying
Medical students are defined by studying. First and second year is filled with lecture and lab-based learning. During third and fourth year, you still need to study, both for shelves and also to know what the heck you are doing on wards. What’s the best way to avoid stress from studying? Don’t procrastinate. Be consistent and try to stick to your schedule as best as possible. BUT don’t beat yourself up when you don’t do that perfectly. Schedule study time but also know when you are going to take breaks. Lastly, spend the first year optimizing the way you study. Are you a flash card person? Do you like making outlines? Maybe you’re all about doing as many practice tests as possible. Regardless of how you study, don’t be too stubborn to change your ways if you realize that your way isn’t the best way.

||Read: How I Study in Medical School||

Avoid comparing yourself to others
Much of the stress in medical school occurs because we look at our classmates and feel inadequate compared to them. “John is already doing research!” or “Compared to her, I don’t feel like I’m studying enough.” “He has all the answers to the pimp questions and I feel like I don’t know anything.” These are all thoughts that go through our head and they stress us out. Comparing ourselves to others feels very natural but we must avoid it. Rather than being jealous of our classmates, we should appreciate them. There are going to be some people who are just smarter than you! But more importantly, you must understand that everyone has insecurities. You may think that a fellow student has everything put together but you have no idea what is going on in his or her head. Everyone struggles in medical school, no matter how put-together they look.

||Read: What to Expect in Medical School Part 1||

Speak truth to yourself and look for reasons to be thankful
Our natural instinct is to listen to that voice inside of us that tells us that we are not good enough, smart enough, productive enough, fun enough, etc. Rather than listen to that nasty voice, speak truth to yourself instead. “My test scores do not define my worth or value as a human being.” “Not getting into my top-choice residency is not going to be the end of my life.” “I can’t believe I’m going to be a doctor!” “I’m thankful that I have great friends I can share this struggle with.” These are some of the truths that we must speak to ourselves in order to remind us of the actual reality of life. Being in medical school is an incredible privilege. Every single one of us has an opportunity to make a significant difference in somebody’s life. Let’s not forget that.

Embrace community
Isolating yourself is one of the best ways to go crazy in medical school. One of the best pieces of advice that I got in medical school was to not neglect community. Whether it’s your family, significant other, classmates or friends, make an effort to be with other people. Also as we get older, we need less superficial relationships and more deep connections. Spending quality time with others will help you release stress, complain, find reasons to be thankful, remember why you’re in medical school, and see that life goes on outside of your small medical school world.

||Read: Identity Outside of Medicine||

Have purposeful rest
Like I said before, you need to schedule time for rest. Rest doesn’t just mean sleeping. It means finding rest for your mind and soul. This looks different for each person. Some people let loose and find rest by going to a club and dancing the night away. Others like to have Netflix marathons and ordering food in. Resting well is just as important as studying and working hard. If you have valued going to a church, synagogue, or mosque your whole life, don’t start neglecting it just because you’re in medical school! If you love yoga or going to the gym, don’t stop now! Keep doing the things that make you happy. Prioritize these things and remember that they are just as important as doing well in school.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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