When I arrived at medical school, I was bombarded with resources. Websites, books, and applications as study resources. Mentors, advisors, and deans as personal and professional resources. Unfortunately, I learned that my most precious resource was the one no one could give me: time. If I just had more of it, I could get through every chapter I needed to read, see every friend I wanted to see, and complete every errand that desperately awaited me (read: using paper towels as toilet paper).
Since the stubborn days weren’t going to change from being 24 hours long, something else had to give. I knew medical school was my number one priority and I was happy for it to be that way. I wanted to put in the time, to digest the material, and to be a good student who could one day be a great doctor.
After some time, I realized that even though medical school is most of my life now, there can still be more to it. Loving medicine and loving other things aren’t mutually exclusive. To the contrary, it’s the other things—trying new foods, practicing yoga, writing blogs, relaxing with friends—that make me happy, keep me interesting, and help me stay engaged with my work.
The real difficulty came when looking for time for those other interests. As any medical student can attest, free time is much harder to come by, with more flashcards to be made and more textbooks to be read. I quickly learned that I wasn’t going to find time just laying around waiting for me. I would have to make it. Although challenging, I’ve found these three small steps have made it easier.
1. First, I started to schedule time for the things that I love just like I would a class or a study session. In my calendar, I block off chunks of time, however small, to devote to my other interests. Just as I show up to a lecture for one hour, I show up to these activities and do my best to be truly off during these times. When I make the time, I want to be sure to take full advantage of it. Even if only for a few minutes, I put away my emails and flashcards and try to give whatever I’m doing my full attention. By incorporating these times into my schedule, I find myself more relaxed during my activities, knowing that they have been accounted for in my week’s plan. These times also serve as a motivation for studying, a sort of reward for my hard work.
2. Second, I began to consolidate my activities. When I want to run but also wish I had more time to spend with friends, I’ll ask a friend to join me for a jog. When I want to read but also am looking to explore a new part of the city, I’ll find a coffee shop on the other side of town and take my book with me. It’s not always necessary for me to do two things at once and sometimes it’s well worth it to focus on one activity or one person. But, on those weeks when I’m feeling like I can’t make it all work, combining two activities can take a load off and leave me feeling accomplished and ready to get back to my studies.
3. Lastly, I remind myself that being well-rounded and happy are critically important to my performance in medical school and my well-being. At the beginning of medical school, I felt guilty every time I would do something non-academic because I “should have been studying” instead. Soon after, I started to realize that on the days I did those things, I was more focused and productive than on the days I studied relentlessly. It was initially difficult and disconcerting to disconnect from work, but, after a little practice, I’ve been surprised by how much the mental break can help. As future physicians, I believe that we must learn to manage our own well-being before we can most effectively manage the well-being of our patients. Forming healthy habits and mentalities during medical school will help us set a precedent for our careers moving forward.
Finding the balance has been a work in progress and I, by no means, have figured it all out yet. Even so, these small steps have helped me carve out time and make a little more of that ever-precious resource. I’m even using real toilet paper now.
About Arianna Yanes
Arianna Yanes is a first year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She is the daughter of two physicians who immigrated to America from Iran and Syria to pursue their passions for medicine. Although they encouraged her to consider other career options, Arianna ultimately developed the same passions that brought her parents to the U.S.
As an intern with CNN’s Medical Unit, Arianna became passionate about communicating medical news and making health information accessible and digestible. She plans to continue writing and blogging through medical school and hopes to eventually incorporate this into her future career.