They say experience is the best teacher. Experience has taught you how to buy the cheapest textbooks, how to order your coffee on campus, and why you should not stay up too late on test nights. The idea is that if you do something enough times, you might eventually start to get the hang of it. Without a doubt, you have probably gotten better at this whole PreMed thing as time has progressed. You might even be starting to really love this whole process to some extent. However, experience probably taught you over the past few years how much work goes into your grade – work that hardly gets done in one or two nights a week. You tell your friends and family there is not too much you would change about it, but that still does not stop you from thinking, “What on earth would I do with my time if it did not go towards studying?” You might even catch yourself dreaming of some parallel universe where PreMed students actually studied the least, and even got bored with how much time they had. Gasp.
The harsh truth in the world of overly productive PreMeds is that we actually do not always do well with free time. Even I thought I handled free time well until I embarked on my last semester as a senior, where I had significantly more time than I ever thought I would. Most busy-bodied PreMeds only dream of being bored with school in the kind of way that you dream about going to a Nickelback concert. While it sounds like a good idea at first, you realize soon enough that you would rather be doing something else. That is not to say that you would not enjoy a little free time, or a little Nickelback for that matter, but I fear that the future doctors of the world would rather be a little too productive at all times than a little too unproductive at any time.
Compared with the 23.1% of non-doctors, 40% of physicians report dissatisfaction with their balance between work and life. In addition, 45.8% of doctors experience at least one symptom of burnout. I would never be so bold as to say those figures are caused by any one circumstance, especially since burnout is usually caused by more than one factor. But doctors are trained from early in their PreMed years to work hard without the added emphasis of time off. Believe it or not, we certainly are not helping with that.
Nobody has aced any PreMed course by exerting less effort during study time, and I am not implying that you start. But maybe you should be just as intentional about the time you do not work as the time in which you do. If you are not planning the time to relax, to work on being a significant other, or to try new things, why would you ever expect to do so after you accept your license as a physician? Doctors and PreMeds alike have to start taking unproductivity as seriously as productivity. It is time that we develop systems to deal with real stress before we become the newest generation of burnout statistics.
Some quality ways to get the most out of your unproductivity:
- Ditch your Facebook – your time is special, and your life is special. Do not spend your free time reading up on other people’s free time.
- Do something that is relaxing to you – while it might sound simple at first, it is easy to get trapped into doing the things that are relaxing to your friends that you simply are not interested in.
- Be careful not to fill your free time too quickly – while it is tempting to spend a spare hour watching Netflix, YouTube, or playing phone games, you might find that you never actually gave yourself the chance to reflect on your stressful week because you filled that time with mindless entertainment. Try spending a little time breathing and paying attention to your thoughts for as little as ten or fifteen minutes instead.
It is important to squeeze in time for unproductivity even in the face of stressful times. The beauty of the PreMed process is that every choice you make has the ability to influence the kind of doctor you will eventually become, whether that is good or bad one. According to the statistics, the most successful doctors are the ones who find balance in their lives between work and rest. Do yourself a favor today and try something that makes you a little uncomfortable. For a busy body like me, the very thing I needed to struggle with was a little too much free time. Then again, perhaps we are all searching for a new perspective. Regardless of who you are, or what experience has taught you in the past, I hope you are not missing out on seeing yours.
Before I sign off on my last column, I find it fitting to offer a few acknowledgements. As for the staff of PreMedLife Magazine and Tasheema Prince, thank you all for such an incredible opportunity. Thank you to Mom, Dad, and Alaina for continuously encouraging me to pursue my passions. Lastly, thank you to anybody who has chosen to read my work. I hope it has moved you to grow in some way.
- “Is your doctor burned out?” http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/23/health/time-doctor-burnout/
Austin Greer is a 4th year student at Indiana Wesleyan University and a current Student Advisory Board Member for PreMedLife.