If there’s one thing that all medical school students and residents in training have in common, it’s that they never have enough free time.
Between lectures in the classroom, long shifts at the hospital, studying, and preparing for examinations, time off is a luxury for doctors in training. But it’s essential to establish a balance between your academic obligations and your personal life.
From learning time management skills to allowing yourself to take a mental break, here are five tips doctors in training can use to better balance life and academia.
Learn How to Manage Your Time
You can create more free time for yourself if you know how to manage the hours you devote to your academics and training.
Create a calendar and a daily schedule that prioritizes tasks in order of importance.
Assign big blocks of time to unavoidable tasks, like in-class training and studying for the USMLE. Set aside smaller blocks of time to do research on salary, practice settings, and any subspecialties you might be considering. (This article takes a look at the various factors you should consider while you’re still in training).
Along with blocking out the hours you’ll devote to work, study, and career prep, schedule moments for personal things as well. Having dinner with family, spending an hour on your favorite hobby, and making time to be social with friends are important activities that all deserve to be on your calendar.
Prioritize Your Own Health
Early morning lectures. Late-night studying. Deadlines that you cannot miss. No matter how jam-packed your schedule is, you MUST find time to make and eat healthy meals, exercise on a regular basis, and get enough sleep.
It’s important that your physical and mental health remain at optimum levels throughout your years of training. Prioritizing both will help you be more focused, more productive, and more energetic, all of which will allow you to perform your best.
Self-care is crucial, so you have to carve out time for all the things that keep you happy and healthy. That includes pursuing interests outside of medicine, maintaining strong personal relationships, and learning how to unwind and relax.
Be Present In the Moment
Whether you’re in the classroom, doing rounds, or relaxing with family and friends, be present in the moment. Rather than trying to multitask, put the focus on what you’re currently doing rather than thinking about all the other things you have to do or want to do.
This will serve you well as a medical school student, as a resident, and as a practicing physician throughout your career. Being present allows you to fully appreciate and absorb the moment, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish.
Maintain a Support System
No matter how busy you may be, it’s important to maintain existing relationships with family and friends and cultivate new relationships with peers that are under the same pressures as you.
With fellow med students and residents, consider forming study groups to help each other understand and process new information you learned in class. With friends and family outside of your program of study, keep in contact with regular meetups or phone calls.
There will inevitably be moments where you’re feeling stressed or frustrated and need to vent. Lean on your support system in those moments and they’ll be easier to get through.
Take Breaks to Reduce Stress
Humans need to rest, and we’re not just talking about sleep. While sleeping 7 to 9 hours per night is the key factor in resting your brain and body, you should also take breaks throughout the day.
As a doctor in training, stress is inevitable, but taking breaks throughout the day, even short ones, is sometimes all it takes to reset and refresh the mind.
Whenever possible, take fifteen or twenty minutes to yourself. Things like taking a walk outside, meditating, or reading a book are excellent ways to help you de-stress, so do your best to work them into your day, even if your schedule is already full.
This article dives deeper into why taking breaks is good for your brain and why you need to make time for them.
Balancing your personal life and academic responsibilities is no easy feat, but you have to find ways to do so. A work life balance is a necessity no matter what type of work you do or how packed your schedule is. Figuring out how to create and maintain one while you’re still in training will be beneficial now and throughout the duration of your career.