Wellness In Medical School
What Wellness Looks Like In Medical School
This page is here so some of the members of the LWI group can share what wellness looks like for them at different stages in their medical school experience. Each person’s experience is unique, and hopefully, you can find some useful things to integrate into your own routines and know you aren’t alone!
A big part of personal wellness for me is to keep up with the hobbies I love outside of medicine. It is easy to lose yourself in the endless list of things you have to do for medical school, and it definitely takes effort to find a balance. Now that I am in clerkship, a constant sentiment I hear from many residents and attendings is that they wished they took the time to enjoy their journey more and foster the growth of other parts of their lives. As a tattoo artist, I love creating custom pieces and getting to know my clients, but I found myself missing this part of my life during medical school. It has taken some time to learn how to balance everything but what has helped is to actively schedule in hobbies based on my personal study habits. For example, I know that I am most productive in the morning and tend to lose focus in the evenings. So, I’ll schedule tattoo appointments at least once a week in the evening. Doing this also forces me to be a lot more productive and focus during my morning study sessions. I also try to make the most of my limited free time by “multitasking”: I’ll invite friends over at the same time when tattooing friends or host a wine and paint night when designing tattoos for clients. I’ve found that staying connected to my artistic and social side has helped me stay grounded through clerkship and grow my relationships.
A way I make wellness sustainable is to choose ways to practice wellness that I enjoy. This is how I can maintain wellness during times of stress or when I feel overwhelmingly busy. For example, playing on a ball hockey team allows me to practice both physical and social wellness. I also know that my teammates are counting on me to come to the games, so that is further motivation to come. I find that even if I don’t feel up to going, once I get there I’m glad that I went and it energizes me. Giving support to my teammates and receiving support is a great way to build your self confidence in trying new things and taking risks. I had never played hockey prior to joining this team and was hesitant to join, but I saw it as an opportunity to spend time with friends and meet new people. Although my ball handling skills still need a lot of work, I have greatly improved in a short period of time and am proud of getting out of my comfort zone.
Hello! My name is Sarah, and I am a third-year clerk at the University of Saskatchewan. I wanted to chat a bit about what wellness looks like for me, and what strategies that I use to maintain balance during medical school.
One of the most important things in my life is my family. I am lucky to live in the same city as my parents, and I make a point to go home to see them and my dog, Joey, as much as I can. I have protected time in my schedule on Sunday evenings each week so I can go home for supper and spend quality time with the folks that I love.
Also important to me is protecting time in my schedule for exercise. For the longest time, I found that exercise often got pushed to the bottom of my priority list. However, in clerkship, it became apparent that if I wasn’t feeling my best, I wasn’t doing my best for my patients either. The same goes for a good night’s sleep! Sleep and exercise, both things that may seem selfish as a medical student, really are investments in yourself and your future patients. I accomplish this by playing recreational soccer once per week and using some of that *line of credit* to invest in some personal training to keep me accountable.
Lastly, take care of one another. Medical school is stressful enough without any added competition between students. Have dinner parties with your medical school buddies! Have a study session together sponsored by Pillsbury sugar cookies. Laugh about the time you awkwardly accidentally followed your resident into the bathroom during clerkship/shadowing. We’re all in this together.
I wish all of you well,
Preet Gujral, MS3
University of Ottawa
Clerkship was a learning curve for me as we transitioned from lecture and textbook learning to daily practical learning. As with any new beginning, it came with its unique challenges. We are at the hospital 5-6 days a week for about 40-60 hours a week depending on the rotation. It was exciting to finally be on the wards and learn hands on, especially after 2 years of online pre-clerkship due to COVID. However, along with the excitement came challenges including time management and the art of balancing, especially as our exam approached. At the University of Ottawa, we write a final exam for two rotations after a 12-week placement.
As I went through the first few weeks of clerkship, my enthusiasm and excitement began to be masked by stress. I was stressed for our exam, worried about not spending enough time with friends and family, and upset that I was not able to keep up with my hobbies. As the weeks went by, I felt demotivated and found myself stuck in a repetitive cycle. After much reflection I realized I had completely withdrawn from any forms of wellness. Knowing the importance of wellness, I brainstormed ideas to incorporate it. My biggest struggle was finding time. I shortly realized there was no such thing as “finding” time and rather I had to “allot” time. I began scheduling time blocks into my weekly schedules for things I enjoyed. This included catching up with family and friends from my hometown, going to aesthetic cafes accompanied with long walks, and home workouts. I also love board games and planned board game nights with my roommates and friends. Scheduling hard blocks of time allowed me to do activities I loved without feeling guilty. One challenge I faced was the feeling of “I’m not doing enough”, which caused me to neglect practicing wellness. After some thought and talking to peers I realized that this is a common feeling and no matter how much you do, you will always feel as if there’s more to do. That’s why it’s important to create your boundaries and incorporate things you love to do, as that will keep you going.
Everyone’s definition of wellness is unique. For me wellness consists of spending time with loved ones, exploring new food places, and working out. For you it may be completely different. It can involve cooking, playing a sport or simply watching some Netflix and sleeping. Whatever your form of wellness is, it’s crucial to make time for it as the daily buzz of medicine continues. As I transitioned to clerkship, I struggled to find the balance between medicine and my personal life. Using the strategy of blocking off time has helped me better manage my time and practice wellness without guilt.
Personal wellness can be difficult to maintain during medical school, but it is important to prevent burnout. In pre-clerkship, many activities that I engaged in during my free time were with friends or family. I consider myself to be an extroverted individual, so catching up with friends was important to me when I had the time. I often facetimed friends after a long day to catch up about things going on in our lives, especially to talk about things outside of medicine.
When I moved into clerkship, I still enjoyed spending time with friends, and it would be especially important after having long or difficult shifts. However, I found that it was necessary to adjust my time accordingly in order to ensure a work-life balance and overall wellbeing. I found that personal time to myself became more important, as it felt more necessary in order to recharge. Some activities that I enjoy in solitude include painting; I enjoy putting on headphones, getting lost in music for a few hours while being creative and engaging in my artistic side. I also enjoy going to hot yoga classes independently, which feels extremely relaxing for the mind and body. Finally, I enjoy watching shows and lying comfortably in my bed after a long day.
Throughout clerkship, I have also realized my personal limits and have tried to lean into what my body is telling me. While there are always additional topics to review or complete practice questions for, I lean into signals indicating that I am too hungry, too sleepy, or too mentally exhausted to study for any longer. Prioritizing needs for basic function is extremely important to encourage longevity and wellbeing in clerkship! I prioritize things such as eating breakfast in the morning, sleeping at the same time every night if possible, and scheduling in days alone to complete activities such as grocery shopping and meal prepping.
Overall, the idea of wellness can change throughout your time in medical school, but it is definitely important to cut out time for your friends and for yourself to create a good balance!
Medical school is a unique experience. It challenges, humbles, motivates, and forces you to grow and adapt. Prioritization is the name of the game, at least for me, as I realized very early on that I would not be able to do absolutely everything that even partially caught my eye. This came with making decisions that put school first instead of going to the gym, meal prepping, or doing some of the other habits that I truly value. And I paid for it.
- Exercise: I suppose it is a cliche for a reason. I know that my mood gets better, I become more focused, and the restless feeling I get after hours of studying is improved if I exercise. The gym during undergrad was my happy place, and although I may not be able to go as much as I once did, making sure that I am getting some form of exercise 4-5 times a week has made a difference for me.
- Journaling: My own practice has ebbed and flowed from daily 20-minute sessions reflecting on things in my life to 5-minute practices simply listing things that I am grateful for and hope to improve on. Right now, I journal about my clinical experiences and try to take 5 minutes in the morning to write things that I am grateful for and 5 minutes at night to reflect on the day. It is hard to describe, but when I do this consistently, my perception of the things in my life seems to shift, and I see things more positively. I am not sure if others have the same experience, but it could be something to try!
- Meditation: Another cliche but hear me out. I first started meditating in high school, and since then, I have gone through patches where I am incredibly consistent, and then I fall off the wagon for six months or more. There is something that happens after 2 weeks of meditating 10 minutes a day that makes me a better person. It is hard to describe, but there is a shift in my thoughts, my reactivity to things in my life, and how emotions impact me that even medication does not quite do. It is not so much that my thoughts change, but I begin to recognize them as thoughts quicker; I can put the brakes on and refocus on the things that matter.
I know the things that I find useful are not revolutionary, but I hope that if you try them out, they have as much of an impact on your well-being as they have on mine.
To access the material from 2018, please see this link
To access the material from 2019, please see this link
To access the material from 2020, please see this link