Physicians want the best for their patients, but when it comes to their own well-being, they sometimes overlook the best practices that they recommend for others. I definitely see this trend in medical training, from fellow medical students all the way to grown-ass doctors: skipping meals, losing sleep, emotionally burning out, binging on Netflix, junk food, misery etc. I definitely have no authority to speak to how those further in their training should handle stress--the workload only grows as one advances.
However, these are 5 ways that I (a medical student not applying to a cut-throat specialty) like to attempt that elusive "work-life balance." But if you live to work, or if you're gunning for that super competitive specialty, then perhaps this list isn't 100% right for you. And that's fine. I'm a proponent of doing what makes you happy. I am thankful for all the people who fully dedicate their lives to helping other people and are genuinely happy in doing so--y'all are the real MVPs.
1. Your Own Health Comes First
Stop missing and postponing doctors appointments. Stop eating trash because you feel like crap after a long day (...still working on this one). I broke my ankle in first year and waited over a week to get it evaluated, because I didn't want to miss school. Turns out it was not just going to "go away on its own" and required surgery. My parents have always emphasized that health is the most valuable thing I have. Do not squander it, ignore it, or take it for granted.
Take small, tangible steps towards your health goals. If you want to eat healthier, try meal prepping lunches with lots of fiber, veggies, and lean meats. This can be done over the weekend in one large batch that will last you the week. If you don't know how to cook or sincerely don't have time to plan for that, take an even smaller step and buy the healthy option at the cafeteria, or cook small-batch healthy meals a few nights a week.
If you have a dentist or doctor appointment or something you have been meaning to schedule but "more important things keep coming up," challenge yourself to just make the appointment, ask for a half day off 1-2 weeks ahead of time, and do the damn thing. I say this because I initially struggled with anxiety about taking time off for "small matters." But I later realized that most people understand. And if they don't, that's most likely because they don't really care about your health! You have to be your own advocate, because the reality is that most times nobody else will advocate for you. This applies to mental health services, as well. All aspects of your health, not just the physical ones, matter.
2. Make Sure to Evaluate and Re-evaluate Your Priorities
What do you want from life when all of the competition and posturing of training is gone? Some people work to live and others live to work. Both are OK. I hate it when people say "If you don't love what you do, you're doing it wrong." Many people don't have the luxury to make a living doing what they absolutely love. And I recognize that I, along with many of my classmates, am privileged in being able to choose.
If what you want is the illustrious career, realize that you will probably have to make sacrifices in family and personal time in order to compete. On the other hand, if family and personal life are more important to you, realize that the time dedicated towards bolstering your career may take a hit. Maybe you'll make less money, less prestige amongst your peers. Be ready for that. I realize what I'm saying is somewhat binary and gender biased. General concept is, given our current social reality, choose what's the most important to you, what you need to be happy, and what you can deal with having less of. And if you know of anybody who actually "has it all," please send them my way so I can steal their life force.
Just do it. It feels incredible afterwards and agonizing beforehand and during. The more you exercise, the more crap your body is able to tolerate. And there's going to be a lot of crap. This might prevent you from passing out in the Operating Room when you're short on sleep and food, wearing a lead jacket for 2-3 hours while trying to navigate a laparoscopic camera while also fogging up your vision with your breath because of awkward surgical masks.
4. You need Friends on the Outside (in addition to friends on the inside)
Making friends in medical school will get you through medical school. They are the only other individuals who understand what you are going through. They are invaluable resources, compassionate friends, and future colleagues. Make friends with your classmates (and upperclassmen), because you will need each other to survive. However, if you find yourself only spending time with medical students, you may want to consider branching out.
You know how when you're a member of that Dungeons and Dragons chat room, and all you talk about is Dungeons and Dragons, and whenever somebody tries to steer the conversation elsewhere you somehow, within 5-10 minutes, end up connecting it to Dungeons and Dragons again? And honestly, you don't even like Dungeons and Dragons that much, but you're kind of in too deep now and you're just pretending to like it so you won't lose street cred in the D&D community? No? Ok, that's kind of what happens with your friends from medical school. And don't get me wrong, you'll meet some of the most inspiring, hard-working, and impressive individuals from medical school. On the flip side of that, there's also the pressure, the non-stop comparison, the egos, the occasional "gunner," not to mention the total immersion into a very niche world. Then, when you try to interact with people who aren't in medical school at a party, you either treat them like you would a patient, or you just don't talk to them at all! You go find other medical students and bitch about med school! Friends not in medical school give you perspective: There are other things to life! People are out there doing cool things that you have never heard of and might like to try! Who knew!? How to make friends, you ask? Surely you have some left over friends from high school or college, and if not you can always move on to point #5...
5. Maintain Your Hobbies
Great way to make non-med-school friends, and also a great way to stay sane. Let's say you don't enjoy and excel at school as much as you would like to or as much as your superiors would like you to. Make sure to do something you do enjoy so you're not left feeling like a ne'er-do-well. If going to medical school alone isn't fulfilling your sense of purpose or self-actualization, do something that will (And if it is completely fulfilling you, keep doing it, you huge nerd). Otherwise, you will feel bad about yourself. Achieving "flow," that feeling of total immersion and enjoyment in doing something, is valuable towards your self-esteem and sense of purpose. Which, in turn, helps other aspects of your life, including school.
How do you guys achieve work-life balance? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!
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