As intensive as medical school is, there’s a massive success rate for graduation throughout America. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), between 81 and 84 percent of four-year med students graduate, and this number skyrockets to 96 percent of six-year program students.

    With those odds, you have a pretty strong chance of walking away with your degree. But to ensure that happens, it’s crucial to understand why many of those who didn’t make it fell short so that you can avoid those mistakes.

    While factors like learning struggles and finances play a role in those who don’t graduate, studies show that dropout intention is often due to burnout. When students aren’t able to balance their studies with a healthy work/life balance, the result is often burnout and dropout.

    You want to fall in the majority category of the 81-96 percent of success stories, and following these tips can help you find that coveted work/life balance between your medical studies and a social life.

    1. Structure Your Day

    The life of a busy physician can require character traits like flexibility and thinking on your feet. But while you’re in medical school, structure is essential to your success.

    Try to schedule your courses to be spread out as consistently as possible throughout the week. This allows you better control of the most important part of your routine: your sleep schedule.

    Getting sufficient sleep by going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day is necessary for your overall physical and mental health. In fact, this could be the number one factor that affects your academic performance, even more so than studying.

    Prioritizing Your Free Time

    Once your sleep schedule is settled as best as possible, use the remaining time between classes to focus on your priorities. If you find yourself scrolling mindlessly through social media or playing games, ask yourself if those are contributing to your goal of a work/life balance.

    Some people use these activities as a form of a social life, but studies show that screen time isn’t a substitute for a healthy social connection and can increase anxiety and depression.

    Try replacing that time with positive life experiences, such as joining a study group, taking up an outside hobby, exercising, or catching up with a friend or loved one. Your time is valuable and limited; use it wisely to keep that work and play balance.

    2. Find a Time Management Strategy That Works For You

    Now that you’ve decided where you want your attention to go, the challenging part for most people is sticking to it. That’s where a solid time management strategy comes into play.

    Begin by figuring out your preferred style of organization. Are you a techie, or would you rather stick with paper and pencil as much as possible? That will determine the kind of calendar you should use.

    A traditional pocket schedule works better than a phone calendar if you aren’t comfortable scheduling due dates and appointments through technology, and that’s fine. Whichever method is better for you is perfect as long as you have some way to track your schedule.

    Another kind of time management strategy to use is a timer. If you’re doing an assignment or completing any kind of task where the minutes could get away from you, give yourself a set time and use a timer.

    For instance, you want to research how much a trauma surgeon makes, and you found an article by Physician Thrive that looks interesting. Before you begin your online studies, tell Alexa or Siri (or use whatever timer you have) to set a timer for 30 minutes. When the buzzer goes off, it’s time to stop that task and move on with your day.

    The best of intentions are only dreams if you don’t have a strategy to turn them into reality. Time management techniques guide you as you make this happen.

    3. Take Care of Your Health

    The ironic thing that happens with many nurses and doctors is that they study the effects of nutrition on the body and then get too busy to put it into practice themselves.

    Be mindful of what you consume. Tobacco and alcohol may make you feel better in that moment, but over time, these contribute to unhealthy patterns of depression, fatigue, and health issues.

    The same thing applies to what you eat. It can be tempting to eat whatever you can find that’s fast and easy in your busy schedule. However, that junk food could cause you to “crash” during an important study session or exam or make you nauseous when you need to be at your best.

    It’s just as quick and simple to pack a baggie of grapes and cheese and snack on them as it is to eat a candy bar or greasy sandwich. As humans, we were designed to eat to live. Keep that in mind as you decide between a healthy meal and something that tastes great. Living to eat is a surefire path to burnout and is a common thread in the lives of most of the patients you’ll treat.


    Finding ways to balance your medical studies with your social life is a necessary part of school. All work and no play is as unhealthy as the opposite extreme. With these three tips, you can structure your day, find a time management strategy that keeps you on task, and eliminate the unnecessary distraction of poor health.


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