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How to Succeed & Prevent Burnout in Your Second Year of Medical School

The second year of medical school (MS2) is an exciting time. Most students will have completed the more basic science courses like biochemistry and physiology and move on to more clinical material such as pathology and pharmacology.

For this reason, the second year of medical school can be a time for immense academic growth. However, at many institutions, the second year curriculum is even more intense and rigorous than the first year. Maintaining a good work-life balance and reducing stress are especially important as an MS2. The following tips can help you to prevent burnout during the second year of medical school.

How to succeed (and not burn out) in your second year of medical school:

1. Get organized.

Because time is so limited as an MS2, being organized can go a long way in helping students to feel more prepared and less stressed.

The volume of coursework will seem overwhelming at first. Students who lack strong organizational skills will feel increasingly distraught, struggle to effectively study, and potentially miss important deadlines. Prior to the start of classes, read the syllabus for each course.

Have a calendar to record all important dates and deadlines, such as dates of exams or student organization meetings. If certain classes are mandatory, be sure to mark those on your calendar as well so that you never forget about them and suddenly find yourself rushing to lecture.

It can also be helpful to arrange some of your extracurricular activities such as volunteering, any clinical assignments, or meetings with your professor well before exam weeks.

It is also important to have an organized way to learn and study the lecture material. For example, maybe you decide to make separate folders on your desktop or google drive to save each of the lectures for each course along with any notes or handouts you are given. Repetition is key for learning material in medical school, so by organizing your lecture material in a way that is easiest for you, you will be more likely to solidly learn all the lectures and not forget to study any material.


2. Talk to upperclassmen.

Try to connect with upperclassmen who have done well in the coursework material. Ask them which resources and textbooks are necessary and helpful. They can also give you clues on how to study and prepare for certain courses, and they can be a great source of moral support as the year goes on.

And while you may not want to go ahead and purchase every single “required” textbook just yet, you may want to reach out to upperclassmen to find out which resources are truly helpful and necessary.


3. Find mentors.

If you know what area of medicine you would like to pursue, try to connect with faculty and residents in that field. These people can be very helpful in guiding you over the upcoming three years, and if you get to know them early on, they will be more likely to write you strong letters of recommendation.

If you aren’t sure what area of medicine you want to pursue, MS2 is a great time to keep this in the back of your mind as you gain more knowledge and more clinical experience. What is important to you in your career? Do you want a surgical or non-surgical specialty? How important is excellent work-life balance to you? Do you want to follow patients for months or years, or see something different every day? Keep these questions in mind throughout second year as you contemplate different specialties.


4. Think about planning for Step 1.

Consider when you will sit for the USMLE. If your medical school takes Step 1 after the end of second year, set a reminder on your calendar for 6 months prior to the end of the year. Depending on where you plan to test, seats can often fill up quickly so it is important to register early for the exam.


5. Consider extracurricular activities.

One of the best ways to prevent burnout in your second year of medical school is to make sure your life is not all about medicine. It can be easy to spend all day in lecture, spend all night studying, and repeat for many days without taking time to do something fun that you enjoy.

It’s entirely possible to still pursue some of your non-medical interests while in MS2, but it is about balance. Push yourself to be more productive in the afternoon so that you can have dinner with a friend or go to the gym in the evening.

Try to take at least one night off from studying each weekend to let yourself relax and unwind. Remembering to make time for yourself will not only make you happier and healthier but will probably help you perform better in medical school as well.


6. Plan your vacations.

The sheer volume of material can make MS2 daunting, and the amount of studying can make it difficult to have a lot of time off. If you have friends and family out of state, you probably won’t be seeing them every weekend.

Even if your family is close by, much of your free time will be devoted to learning medicine. For this reason, it is important to make the most of the free time you do have.

Planning vacations during this time can be a great way to reduce stress and give you something to look forward to. As a first year medical student, I took a trip to Italy over the December break to visit family, and as a second year medical student, I spent my spring break exploring Costa Rica. On post exam weekends, I tried to spend more time with my friends outside of medicine, catch up on sleep, or plan short getaways.


Overall, MS2 is a great year. In reality, it is a time in which students often note one of their biggest educational growths. However, it is important to prevent burnout by staying organized, having fun, and taking care of yourself.


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