Practicing medicine is a meaningful and rewarding experience that leads many pre-medical students to life-long satisfaction in their career choice. You get to help patients, work among teams to make impactful decisions, and become one of the people who can truly say they are making a difference in the world – but these benefits do not come without a downside.
Being a pre-med demands hard-work, commitment, and dedication, and although you may go through the process having a positive attitude and those around to encourage you, the constant demands and stresses of becoming a doctor may begin become a lot to handle.
Unfortunately, the truth is that burnout is quite common about the pre-medical students. After years of working hard, studying hard, volunteering hard, and so on and so forth – it is only human of you to begin feeling tired – tired mentally, tired physically, tired academically, tired all over and in every aspect of your life. But if you’re looking to either find your way around or manage feelings of being burnt out, and remain motivated to pursue a career in medicine, here are a few ways to keep on the right track:
“Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.” – O. Henry.
One of the main things you’ll want to do is think deeply about the expectations that you set for yourself. The first thing that usually comes to mind when one things about burnout is a feeling of being fatigued. You feel just plain ol’ tired and come to a place in your thinking where you’re questioning everything that you’re doing. These are the kinds of thoughts the begin to flood your mind when you are working your tail off – studying for hours, completing assignments, striving to do the best you can as a pre-med student – and things are just not adding up, and you’re not seeing the seeing the results you want.
And, while there’s no problem with setting the bar high for yourself, feeling fatigue may very well be the by-product of being unrealistic about what is humanly possible for you personally.
For example, if you tell yourself that you’re going to take 16 credits, while also volunteering at the hospital, and holding down a part-time job on the weekends (when a less filled schedule is more reasonable), chances are that you will burn yourself out trying to manage such a packed schedule. If you tell yourself you’ll study for the MCAt for 4 hours (when a maximum of around 2-3 hours is more realistic), you may feel tapped out when you do not reach this lofty goal despite how hard you’ve worked.
The best thing to do in this department is begin to set goals and expectations for yourself that are realistically obtainable. And this is not to say do away with all of the high standards and goals you’ve already set with pursuing a career in medicine, but it is to say that in order to have the stamina to make it through the process and still have a love for medicine and desire to become a physician, try not to go to the extreme.
“Information overload (on all levels) is exactly why you need an “ignore list.” It has never been more important to be able to say “No.” – Mani Sivasubramanian
Yes, that’s right, go ahead and say no to yourself – protect yourself from yourself. Being a pre-medical student is not only an academic choice but also a lifestyle choice. For a lot of students pursuing careers in medicine, your premed “responsibilities” will often take time away from your personal life. The key here is to establish boundaries. What those boundaries look and feel like is completely up to you and will be unique to you and your situation. It might mean taking a break after a long study session, or only studying for a block of time on the weekend. Whatever you decide to do here and wherever your draw the line between your personal and “premed life,” stick to them no matter what – it will be all worth it in the end.
“I want to caution you against the idea that balance has to be a routine that looks the same week in and week out.” – Kevin Thoman
Like with anything else in your life, burnout can begin to emerge when you find yourself doing the same thing over and over. For the most part, pre-medical students are juggling many things and have involved with a number of different activities, that a routine that is constant is not a bad thing – but unfortunately, doing the same thing week to week, or even day to day, can have its setbacks. The good news is – you’re in a college or university setting and there are probably a ton of options to do something different.
If you find yourself hating to study by yourself, try finding someone to join you. If you’re always studying in the library, trying taking your books outside or studying in a place that seems conducive to studying that you’ve never tried before.
“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ’Til your good is better and your better is best.” – St. Jerome
When you begin to feel burnt out, it can be very easy to forgot why you’re doing what you’re doing. Become a doctor – what were you thinking, right? But if you can reach down deep and remind yourself of the reasons why you’re pursuing medicine, you may be able to get the strength you need to make it through the tough times that you will most likely face on your way to becoming a doctor.
For example, if you’re pursuing medicine because you enjoy helping people, find opportunities to volunteer your time and lend a helping hand for a community service activity. If you’re pursuing medicine because you were inspired by someone you know, reach out to this person and see if you could find a time to get together to chat.
“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw fro us.” – Maya Angelou
If you’re a pre-medical student, taking a break is probably far from your thoughts. But actually, is might actually be the best way to avoid burnout. Take a break for goodness sake. it is because you are so committed to becoming a doctor, or so dedicated to your need to serve, you get consumed by the idea that forces you to believe that you must be studying or doing something “premed” 24/7. Take time to do nothing. Take some time to visit with friends and family. If you skip this advice, and don’t take a break from your pre-med life, then burnout is most likely in your future, in some form or another.
If you can think seriously about putting some of these strategies into action, you should be able to miss the burnout train – or at least the worst and most extreme form of it. Many pre-medical students face consistent ups and downs, but successful premeds will overcome difficulties and come out celebrating their achievements.