One last weekend before the new class of Student Interns join us, and one last weekend of my tiny little holiday. If you’ve missed it, I’ve written about working with junior/seniors and also about study methods. Today, something I know makes a lot of people roll their eyes: wellness.
I was told I would outgrow the wellness concept. Well, I haven’t. I still believe that students and doctors need to be emotionally healthy in order to perform at the highest level.
Everybody always says how scared they are of SI, and allow me to agree: SI is HARD. It is, without a doubt, the hardest part of med school. You will become drained and burnt out and suffer compassion fatigue. And you will not have nearly enough holiday. But wellness is such a personal thing that one can’t simply prescribe a list of suggestions.
The first step for everyone, however, is to make wellness a priority. If you are going to do any preparation on your last weekend before SI, it should not be related to theory. It should be to determine a survival strategy for the sixteen months ahead. These are some things I did:
- Exercise: I started running. Initially, 20 minutes three times a week. Oh, and I hated it. But I realised how much better it made me feel (and I couldn’t afford another activity) and then I started running more. Sometimes I did 5km runs. Nothing more. My brain felt refreshed and my health improved. And 20 minutes? Really not that much. The same as a power nap, really. I often do it after a long day at work, but I have learned when to let it go. Some days, sleep is more urgent.
- Eating: I asked my parents to increase my food budget so that I could eat healthier. I made a point of buying fruits and veggies and always having water with me. I tried to cut down on chocolate (this has had mixed success). I am also lucky that my little sister is on the same campus as me and so she cooks for me when I am on a busy rotation.
- Sleep: The thing people say about not getting more than four hours a night is a lie. Of course, some nights one just can’t get to bed early, but generally I have made a point to get six hours sleep a night. There is a point at which studying is no longer fruitful. And when I don’t have any rounds on a weekend, I make a point of getting at least eight hours.
- Fun: I’ve lost count of the number of times people ask me, “How do you manage to read so much and still study?” (Or replace reading with other activities too.) The truth is that I don’t reeeeally have time to read, but if I don’t read, I will go crazy. It makes me happy and it calms me and it keeps me grounded. So I make time to read. Not everyone enjoys reading, but everyone enjoys something, and it is a lie that you won’t have time for fun. The easiest way to become burnt out and miserable is not to do anything fun. So you wanna dance? Go dance. You wanna do the Colour Run? Do it.
- Family and friends: here’s something a lot of people don’t know – in that last weekend before the April exams I went on a short Easter break with my family to Mosselbay. It is four hours from Cape Town, and GeekBoy and my sister did the driving so that I could study in the car. It was a bit of a risk, but I desperately needed to be with family over Easter. They all knew I had to study and let me do so, but when I took study breaks I had family to talk with and mommy-food to eat. And when I came down with the flu (such great timing) they were there to take care of me. It was so worth it, and I did much better in the exams than I expected.
- Seek help: medical students are really bad at this part, but I think we are getting better. If you are burnt out or traumatised from something you saw or experienced or just plain struggling to study: find help. Find a psychologist or any other provider that can help with what you need. Chuck your “pride” in the bucket. There is nothing abnormal about a struggling med student!
The crux of it is to take care of your physical body (just as you would advise any patient) and do what you can to stay emotionally well, too. You will probably feel like you’re failing at it half of the time, but if you’re thinking about it, you’re halfway there.