Five tips for coping with academic burnout for medical students | Top Universities
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Five tips for coping with academic burnout for medical students

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Baurzhan Irisbayev

Updated Apr 28, 2022
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Medical students in uniform on campus

As a fifth-year medical student with an intense workload, I’m cramming in all the knowledge and experience I need to graduate as a successful medical professional. With assignments, work experience and the extracurricular events and networking, burnout is a real risk.  

Chronic stress can carry physical and mental health effects, so it’s vital to take measures to create some space to relax and unwind. These are the five strategies that help me to prevent burnout in medical school: 

Study difficult topics with friends 

Students working together

In medicine, there are so many complex topics to study, but I’ve found that the subjects I struggle in are often the ones my friends understand better. Someone is always better at biochemistry or histology, but we need to combine knowledge from all areas to understand our field.  

I’ve found that studying with friends helps to make sense of the bigger picture, so I get together with my course mates to talk about a topic. Plus, the more I explain something out loud, the more I remember the facts myself. 

Find yourself a mentor  

Student speaking to mentor

Having a mentor has been so valuable for me as a student. There are many ways you can find a mentor, but if you have someone in mind who you think you’ll be able to learn from, just ask. My mentor is my university supervisor, and he helps me when I face challenges in my studies. 

I’ve known my mentor for five years now and in that time, he has helped me with the topics I struggle to understand. He shares useful literature and articles to aid my leaning, and he supports me in taking the right steps towards my career.  

Thanks to this relationship, I’ve been put in touch with various doctors who have been willing to share their experiences with me and help me to decide on which path to take in medicine. 

Don't leave everything to the last minute  

It’s easy to experience procrastination when you see that the course material is so large. I was recently studying the effects of different drugs for a clinical pharmacology exam. I had to learn the details of how a drug would act at the molecular level, how long it would act when it left the body and the necessary dosage, etc.  

It felt like a lot of information that would be difficult to remember but instead of putting things off and studying last minute for an exam, losing sleep and putting more stress on my body, I’ve found that dividing the learning material into small, manageable parts and studying a little every day works best.  

Research suggests that the brain remembers the first 15-30 minutes of studying well, then it needs to relax. You can also apply various methods of information perception, like watching videos on YouTube or Coursera, as well as studying from text.  

Get out into nature 

Students hanging out in the countryside

Medical students need to learn a huge amount of material across all types of health conditions and potential treatments. On top of that, we must complete residentials and internships in hospitals and other health settings to put our learning into practice. It can feel difficult to get out and into nature but taking a break and getting some fresh air can make things feel less intense. 

When I add sport into the mix, like playing football with friends, it can have a positive effect on my mental health, and I can continue my studies with renewed vigor. Every evening I go out for a walk and invite my friends to make it more fun. Sometimes we do light gymnastics, pull ourselves up on horizontal bars and do various exercises to maintain muscle tone. 

If I can’t go out for a walk in the evening, then I wake up early in the morning and walk from my student accommodation to class.  

Use your time wisely 

Student working from home

It can be tempting to sign up for the many extracurricular activities and opportunities that come along while attending medical school. They’re important, because they give you something extra to your degree, but you need to find balance. I avoid overload by setting a limit on my work time and prioritise what needs to be done first.  

I always finish my university assignments before 8pm and take on the most mentally taxing work, like reading course materials or writing a research paper, in the morning when my brain is better engaged. That means my evenings are free for spending time with friends or switching my brain off to relax.  

I also downloaded a time management app to stop me procrastinating and scrolling on the internet when I’m supposed to be studying. That’s helped me to be more productive in the time I do study, and gives me more time to do other things. 

 

Studying at a medical school is full of difficulties, but if you use the right tools to manage your time and have some fun, you can overcome many obstacles and become an excellent specialist in your field.