Tonight I noticed a tweet asking for top self-care tips for medical students, and (unsurprisingly) I felt I had too much to say to fit it into 140 characters, so I thought it might be worth a blogpost. Being a medical student is an amazing experience, but it can also be incredibly difficult for lots of reasons. This post isn't supposed to be in any way comprehensive. I'm not an expert, by any stretch. This is just a collection of suggestions and ideas based upon my own experiences and those of people I know.
Medicine is hard work. Most of it isn't intellectually particularly stretching, but there's a vast amount of stuff to learn and the majority of people will have to do a reasonable amount of work to keep on top of it. I'm not advocating becoming a hermit, but going to most of your lectures, showing up on the wards and keeping up with reading will mean exam season is far less stressful. If you have to actually learn everything from scratch, rather than just revise it, you'll be giving yourself a far more difficult task than is necessary.
It's also important to make the most of being a student. Go to toga parties. Play pub golf. Go clubbing whilst dressed as a giant chocolate bar or do garlic and chili body shots from the Med Soc president. Or don't, if you'd rather not. But don't feel like doing an academically demanding degree means you have to miss out on the student experience. A boss of mine once said "you can resit an exam, but you can't resit a party". I'm not sure that's the most sensible advice, but find a balance that makes you happy. Whether it's partying, music/sports/drama societies, volunteering or just reading novels and watching trashy TV, doing fun stuff is important. Keeping up with friends and enjoying yourself is an essential way of dealing with the stress you will feel from time to time. Speaking of friends, they're really important. Make sure you keep up with those outside of your course, too. Non-medics are brilliant for allowing you to properly relax and giving you a sense of perspective (medic friends are great and can relate to a lot of what you've experienced, but have an awful habit of talking shop so you don't truly escape medicine around them).
But don't forget to sleep.
Seriously, sleep is really important. When you're trying to balance partying and studying, sleep can seem like something you don't have time for, but it's essential. Everything seems worse when you haven't been sleeping well. As a medical student, you've embarked on a pretty awesome journey, but you need to be on top of your game to make the most of it.
OK, so it's boring, but it's another essential. If you're spending long days in lectures and then going out drinking, it can be tempting to sustain yourself on Pot Noodles and Red Bull, but there's no way you'll be at your best if you aren't getting a decent amount of vitamins, minerals, fibre etc. Sorry guys, your Mum is right about this one.
Similar to the above, exercise is useful for both keeping you physically at your peak and helping beat stress. As a naturally lazy person who would rather exercise by lifting a spoon from ice cream tub to mouth than go anywhere near a gym, I totally get that this is not top of some people's agendas, but it's amazing how much more energy you have after a swim or run. Even a brisk walk around the block is better than nothing.
Sometimes you will see things that really resonate with you and upset you. This is absolutely OK. Allow yourself to be upset. Talk to a friend. Have a cry. I still get upset about cases from years ago (such as this one), Remember that if there ever comes a time when sad things don't bother you in the slightest, you probably want to think about a change of career.
Take a break.
OK, so this might go a little against what I said earlier about working hard, but it's important. Sometimes, things will get on top of you (see previous point). You might be unwell. You will have stressors in your life outside of medicine. If you're struggling, give yourself permission to take a sick day. There's no point dragging yourself in when you aren't going to be properly concentrating. Doctors are absolutely terrible for going into work when they're unwell. It does noone any favours. Learn now to spot when you aren't well and sort it out early. Even if you're cruising along fine, don't spend more time working than you have to. If your registrar says you can leave early, do. Don't spend the holidays in the library. Having time off is vital to your emotional and physical well being.
Don't let the b*st*rds grind you down.
There are horrible people everywhere. Some of them will be in your year, some will be your seniors, some will be non-medical colleagues. Giving you a dressing down if you're rude or you really don't know your stuff is fine, but nobody should be bullying you. If they are, report it. Snide remarks, sniggering behind your back, deliberately telling you lies about teaching sessions or criticising your appearance or personality is not acceptable. People who do this are, frankly, arseholes. They're probably covering up their own insecurities by pointing out yours. They may well be jealous of how awesome you are. Either way, it's not cool. Don't let it get to you. (But if you're actually being bullied, tell someone. There is help to stop this kind of thing from happening.)
Be the best you you can, not a second-rate someone else.
This is more general life advice I suppose, but in medical school where you're surrounded by brilliant people it's easy to constantly compare yourself to other people. Try not to. The people who may seem the best at uni are not necessarily the ones who make the best doctors. Focus on your weaknesses, by all means, and work on improving them, but don't assume that anyone who really understands the kidneys or can do a super-slick neuro exam is better than you at everything. Maybe you have a really lovely manner with confused old ladies or perhaps you know intricate details of the coagulation cascade. Whatever it is, you'll have something you're awesome at too. Remember what it is you do well, feel proud of it, and work on improving other stuff so that you become the best doctor you can be, not so that you can beat someone else in an exam.
That's a very brief run-down, but those would be my top "survival" tips. Most of all, remember to enjoy it. You're on your way to doing the best job in the world, and you're going to be awesome at it.