The cheat sheet for med school work/life balance

September 12, 2019 - Student Hut

It’s said across the land that medical students are the classic work-hard-play-harder types, many not even needing sleep. But, of course, this stereotype isn’t strictly true. And it makes for a pretty unhealthy lifestyle.

So what kind of med student will you be? And what’s the best way to juggle your considerable workload so you don’t burn out? Is there any time left for fun?

We’ve got the answers from people who have been there, done that and are now trusted with people’s lives. No matter where you go, there’s always more to life than studying. Remember, also, to stop and enjoy the experience!

    University College London – 2 November 2018 “Amazing campus in a great location. My course, medicine, has a great structure. There are many, many societies to choose from and it is easy to involve yourself with any of them.”

    UCL ranks 55th of 169 in Universities by Student Hut.

Managing a large workload

As everyone knows, the workload on a medicine degree is not small. And, unlike a lot of other courses, first year actually counts towards your degree. In fact, a lot of medical schools have you on clinical placements from the first few weeks. So, yes - it’s high stakes. But it doesn’t mean you should be staring burnout in the face for the next five years (and the rest…).

Medical schools know what you’re up against. They’re used to the struggles of student life and have processes and people in place to help you out. Even a simple chat to get you back up and running can help loads and shouldn’t be dismissed. That’s one of the exciting things about studying medicine – you and your coursemates are going to lean on each other. That means you’ve got a sort of family that understand the pressure you’re under.

But don't underestimate the importance of having non-medic friends as well. You’d be surprised at how much you need a break from thinking about it all. And besides, working on your social skills is priceless, as doctors need to understand more than just the science in order to be successful.

    St George’s – 4 November 2018: “The MBBS5 course is overall good. There is plenty of clinical experience, along with good clinical skills teaching. Lectures are generally good and all are recorded online. The students union is good after it's refurbishment.”

    St George’s Hospital Medical School is ranked 116th of 169 in Universities by Student Hut.

Getting enough sleep

As you’ll learn both first hand and through your course content, no person can live without sleep. Like, seriously. Get some rest. You’ll feel like something of a martyr for pulling yet another all-nighter in the library, heading home groggy for a quick shower before lectures. But realistically, have you taken any of that reading in? Would it have been better to have had a few hours sleep then refocus on it?

Or perhaps you’ve had a wild one at the SU. No judgement – it’s a great way to let off steam. But try to use the days in between library and party nights to sleep. Doctors are agile creatures who can take a lot of pressure and sleeplessness. But that’s not you just yet. Don’t become nocturnal before you have to!

If things are getting really stretched, don’t feel that going home to your parents’ place is admitting defeat. You’ll (hopefully) have a quiet room, no distractions and, depending on how long you’ve been away for, probably more home-cooked food than you can eat. Gotta love it when your parents actually start to miss you.

Staying (or getting) healthy

You’re spending your days learning how to keep people alive. So try and use some of that new found knowledge to be kind to your own body. Fruit, veg and water are your brain’s best mates so be sure to take them all in daily. You’ve signed up to be a life saver, so please ensure you’re healthy enough to cope with the job!

This isn’t just about physical health, though. Keeping your mental health level is crucial in these formative years of your medical career. University is likely to be one of the only times you can ask for extensions and easily get extra help when you’re struggling. When you’re on the job, life will be more restricted. But don’t be put off, this is the time to learn to balance your workload and get used to keeping off-beat hours.

    QMUL – 11 November 2018 “An inclusive university with excellent pastoral care, the university makes everyone feel as though they belong. The campus has a lovely coffee shop 'Ground' which is a nice place to hang out or get some work done.”

    QMUL ranks 61st of 169 in Universities by Student Hut.

We’d suggest scoping out what’s what with the university support teams. Each school has a support network in place for students, and in a similar way, each student will be experiencing similar levels of pressure and stress to you. If you can learn to be an open book, you’ll notice your coursemates will turn to you when times get hard. Then you can lean on them right back when you need to

Having fun (without a bottle)

What did you write in your personal statement? If there was anything wholesome in there (preferably not related to medicine), keep it up! Having a life outside of your course couldn’t be more valuable than for a medical student, giving you the chance to think about other things and learn skills that will directly or indirectly improve your life and career. It never hurts to have friends who might be keeping slightly more sociable hours, too.

    King’s College London – 26 November 2018 “The best part about King’s College London are the people you meet. There are a large amount of people that are open minded and willing to make friends. London in general is a great city with many opportunities. KCL societies provide you with access to even better events no matter your interest.”

    KCL ranks 27th of 169 in Universities by Student Hut.

Joining clubs and societies at university is one of the best ways to keep yourself healthy and in good company. It can be too easy to get tunnel-vision with a medical degree because there’s just so much to take in. But giving yourself an afternoon off once a week to get active and exercise, or simply hang out with friends will improve your university experience immensely.

When the pressure starts mounting, say around exam season, meeting friends for a morning walk or run can seriously help get you feeling yourself again. It’ll clear your mind and get you ready for the day. Plus, even if you talk at length about your progress, you and your coursemates could come up with an exercise-based revision session. Efficient.

Student Hut is the student review site with over 100,000 live reviews, they have a unique insight into what people love (and don’t love) about their universities – think accommodation, nightlife, societies, freshers week and more. These reviews are directly from students, rather than from a prospectus or through the university's marketing team. And using this resource has helped us come up with the ultimate guide for medical students to dodge burnout and drive success in their careers.


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