Tightrope Time Part 2: Balancing Life in Medical School

Tightrope_(5893328472)Hello my crazy-busy pre-med readers! Last week I listed out the different categories that I use to prioritize my different activities and I promised that this week I would lay out exactly how succeed at balancing life in medical school. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to wedge all of your important activities into your busy schedule and find balance as a pre-med or medical student.

1. Lay out your musts. That means you need to start your schedule by laying out priorities. That means including things like class-time, volunteer commitments, important family or friend events (i.e. weddings. So many weddings!) and sleeping. By putting down your musts first, you ensure that you will be able to achieve all that you absolutely NEED to do to at the bare minimum.

2. Around your musts, build in your fun time. This time should be full of activities that fill you up instead of emptying you out. This is where I personally place teaching/tutoring as well as exercising, reading for fun, baking, dancing, walking and time to just hang with your friends. By putting in your fun time second, you allow yourself to not only be functional, but productive and happy during your other timed sections.

3. Around your musts and fun time, build in flexible time. That flexible time can be used for studying, group projects, returning important emails, filling out applications etc. It’s important that you classify this as flexible time, because it will vary by week which of these things you choose/need to do.
Overarching goals of schedule-making:
Make your schedule sustainable for long-term success. There are definitely going to be some weeks that are busier than others, and that’s okay. Those weeks might be low on fun-time, but by making a good schedule you can ensure that although fun-time may be low, at least it’s not non-existent.
Schedules are not rules, they are guidelines. For example, today I planned to study at a certain time, but it’s really nice outside and I’m inspired to go for a run. That’s great! I can swap out my exercise time with my study time, no sweat! (Pun definitely intended)
Don’t let your schedule stress you out. If making your schedule is stressing you out more than the actual tasks you have to accomplish, then you need help. Feel free to toss me schedule-building questions, comments, or concerns in the comment space. I would love to help! Your schedule should be a tool to help you stay on track and successful, not a confining or anxiety-creating pit of despair. A good schedule helps you excel as a student and as a human being.
Happy studying!
  • Brandi Thiesse

    Thank you for these posts. I have really been struggling with my schedule lately and need help! I have a lot going on right now: a 3 year old son, a 11 month old son, husband deployed, trying to lose weight via exercise and diet, full time college student (online through old dominion university) and mcat studying (took those core science classes years ago so having to re-learn the material). Obviously kids make a strict schedule impossible but here is what I need help with. Currently I’m trying to do a little bit of everything everyday (housework, mcat, school, etc) but I’m stressed at the end of the night because only half of it is done. Should I continue trying to do this or select certain days for one thing only like Thursday is mcat studying all day?? I know I have a lot going on but medical school is my dream and due to life circumstances I had to put it on hold and don’t want to have to do that again!! Thanks!!

    • Emily Hause

      Hi Brandi!
      First, I would like to applaud you for all of your hard work! Balancing a family and studies is never easy, and it is even more difficult when you’re acting as a single parent. It’s going to be more useful for your studies if you do a little bit every day. I suggest not saying that one day is set aside for studies, but maybe break it up into a pattern like during the kiddos naptime is MCAT study time. Or perhaps you set aside two afternoons each week for MCAT studies. It’s definitely frustrating when you feel like you’re chronically not getting enough stuff done. Do take some time to applaud yourself for getting some work done.

      Are you taking a class? How are you going about studying? Feel free to email me with more of your specifics at emily.hause@kaplan.com. I would LOVE to help you out however possible.
      Happy studying!

  • Jon

    Hi Emily, I was wondering if you could outline a typical day for you? Also, what subject area(s) do you find most challenging and how do you schedule your studying for said subject(s)? Thank you for all your posts and advice!

    • Emily Hause

      Hi Jon,
      In a typical day, I wake up and get ready for class. Then I usually go to lecture in the morning and go to lab in the afternoon. In between, I hit up a lunch lecture to grab some food and learn more about an interesting medical topic or opportunity. Some afternoons I’m lucky enough to have the afternoon free for studying. Otherwise, I head home and eat some dinner. Then it’s studying until bedtime. In anatomy, our schedule is incredibly variable, so no two days really follow the same schedule. That makes scheduling incredibly difficult.

      Essentially I look at my schedule over the course of a week instead of daily. I have to do that because on a given day I might be running around from 8am-10pm without a single instant to study. Other days I may only have two hours of lecture in the morning and have the rest of the day free. I look to accomplish studying goals over the course of a week and then I don’t get too overwhelmed. Does that make sense?

      Basically I’m only focusing on anatomy for the next two weeks or so. Ideally I’ll be able to get a more standard schedule when our next class block starts.
      Hopefully that helps!

  • john



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