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All the Right Moves for Surviving Med School & Residency’s Twists & Turns

Medical school and residency will run you down.

I don’t mean to say that they will totally knock the wind out of your sails and burn you out on life, making you forget that which you really love. But every now and again, you might have a soul-crushing day. The combination of condescending attendings, ungrateful patients, and endless paperwork might make you question why you chose to pursue this route. (This is why!)

That’s all right! It happens. Resilience is hugely important both in the short and long term.

You sleep it off (when time permits), and do your best to bounce back and go get ‘em the next day. When you miss an easy pimping question on rounds, you know not to beat yourself up, and you strive to continue your presentation unfazed. If your first presentation was all over the place and disorganized, you have the wherewithal to put it behind you and do you best for the next one. Every “loss” is a learning experience, and every less-than-stellar thing you do is a place from which to improve.

Resilience is important on the more long-term timeline as well.

Sometimes a rotation or clerkship will just not agree with you. Let’s say your surgery clerkship and shelf ate you alive – you have no choice but to dust yourself off and bring your best to whatever rotation lies ahead.

There’s another kind of turn around that’s very important and often overlooked. A quick and efficient turnaround in between life’s different demands will be your ally in getting the most out of medicine.  Conversely, if you want to stymie yourself, take lots of short breaks, give yourself mini-rewards, and move onto your next important task whenever.

You need balance. Let me explain.

You finish your 12-hour day. It’s 7pm. You’re hungry, you’re tired, your body hurts. But you told yourself you were going to go the gym. What will get you there? A quick turnaround. Pack your gym clothes into your work bag and don’t take no for an answer. If you afford yourself a “brief” sit on the couch or “5-minute rest,” the chances of you moving on are slim.

Another scenario: your patient has a complex congenital heart defect status post repair, and you’re committed to wrapping your head around the anatomy and physiology of his altered pump. A quick look on Facebook will send you down a rabbit hole when you should be devouring Blalock-Taussig shunts and Fontans. If you immediately go from writing your note to reading that wildly informative UpToDate article, you’re so much more likely to accomplish your goal.

In the world of the quick med school turnaround, distractions and couches and Netflix are your enemies. Useless distractors steal your attention from the task at hand. Snacks and sloth and “I’ll do it in a little bit” are the foils to your plans. Now remember, we all must live, and there’s a time and a place for these indulgences. However, it’s not in five and ten minute blocks between other activities. Work to batch your tasks – putting all of your work into one block, and putting leisure in another.

One final thought: as you work your way through medical school and training, something should become apparent.

Gradually, the amount of natural academic ability one has becomes less important, and the amount of hard work that someone is willing to put in becomes what truly matters. Chilling may be a fun, easy and quick way to feel good, especially when school and work have driven you to wit’s end. Relaxing is an undoubtedly important pillar of your physical and mental health. But it won’t get you ahead, and it won’t get the job(s) done. Exercise the maturity and discipline to do something you have to do when you don’t want to do it, and it will pay dividends. Employ a quick turnaround to minimize downtime, and ensure that the task at hand is actually at hand.

Actionable step: next time your shoulder-devil tries to steer you down the path of closing your eyes for 15 minutes before attacking the next job, rise above and just do it!