Premedical and medical school students are under an immense amount of pressure. They must be ultracompetitive among their peers, study months on end for critical exams and apply massive amounts of knowledge to drastically different…
Premedical and medical school students are under an immense amount of pressure. They must be ultracompetitive among their peers, study months on end for critical exams and apply massive amounts of knowledge to drastically different scenarios. In addition, clinical practice, even as a student, can be emotionally draining. One must be objective and compassionate, without letting emotions take control of actions.
This fierce environment begins during a premed education, and given the intensity, it is not a huge surprise that about 15 percent of premed students meet criteria for clinical depression, according to a study published in 2010.
As these doctors-in-training move on to medical school, the number shoots up, with about 27 percent of medical students being depressed, according to a 2016 study. In residency and beyond, depression continually affects clinicians, with suicide rates among physicians being notably higher than the general population.
With the rigorous and extensive training required to become a physician, it is crucial that premed students develop emotional and physical resilience. Having the ability to positively overcome difficulties and better oneself in the process may minimize the risk of becoming depressed during medical school and beyond.
Though the numbers may appear grim, there are many ways premed students can achieve balance in their life in order to maximize their psychological health.
Use school resources. As more awareness is raised regarding the mental health of students, medical schools across the country have begun implementing student wellness programs.
Although many of these formal programs are for medical students, undergrad institutions often have similar resources. Learning techniques for stress reduction, mindfulness and self-care can help students establish good habits they can carry through medical school and beyond.
Hone study skills. Many say trying to consume the full volume and depth of information one is expected to learn in medical school is analogous to drinking from a water hose — it can be overwhelming. Although a high MCAT score and strong GPA can set a student on a strong path to medical school, it is critical to develop effective study habits as an undergrad.
The exams in medical school are stressful, and to decrease this burden, students should focus on developing sustainable study plans that don’t involve cramming. Learning bits of information at a time, over a long period of time, is the key to minimizing the stress associated with grueling medical exams.
Prioritize physical health. With academic demands and extracurricular activities, students often neglect physical self-care. It has been repeatedly shown that regular physical activity has many positive effects on the body, including improved mental health. Sometimes maintaining a balanced diet and adequate sleep are compromised during the premed and medical school years, but premed students should focus on building healthy physical habits.
Exercising regularly, eating well and having plenty of restful sleep can go a long way. An old adage of medical school training is, “Eat when you can, sit when you can and sleep when you can.” Learning to prioritize physical health will optimize students’ overall well-being while decreasing their risk for depression and other illnesses.
Take time for yourself. Between studying, patient care and clinical rotations, taking time away from the demands of medical school can seem impossible. However, it is important for students to have time to enjoy the things they like to do outside of school.
In medical school or as an undergraduate, students should arrange time in their schedule to be with friends and family, or participate in hobbies that are fun and relaxing. Having this work-life balance early in a medical career puts a student on a trajectory for success.
As students progress from being premeds to medical students to residents and beyond, they will be continually tested and pressured to perform exceptionally well. Inherent in the privilege of being a physician is the responsibility of taking care of others and teaching a future generation of practitioners. Although depression is prevalent in this field, one must take important steps to find balance and develop priorities early on in the training to become a healthy and capable physician.