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News & Press: eConnections

Medical Student Roundtable Part 2

Thursday, May 30, 2019  
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Read part one of the Medical Student Roundtable here.

What are the successful strategies for maintaining a work-life balance during medical school?

It is hard to find a recipe or a checklist to keep a good balance between your activities in medical school. Finding integration, rather than balance is incredibly important. Instead of setting rigid expectations for study time and "you" time (which often times leads to frustration and disappointment), look for the small opportunities throughout each day to focus on something that makes you happy.

Whether it is booking an impromptu Pilates class after a long library session, picking up your favorite poke bowl on the way home from the hospital, or just taking a moment to meditate and breathe, these are all moments that become a part of your work-life integration. Make an effort to continue pursuing your hobby, whether it is running, playing an instrument, playing a sport, reading, painting, or drawing. Often times it can seem stressful to make time for these activities, but they will leave you refreshed and ready for new accomplishments. Go out with your friends. If this is a busy week at school, get together for studying or for a cup of coffee between classes. You will find that a 15-minute talk can make you relax and refresh your mind. And always find time for your family, either in person or by phone. A phone or video call should be a part of your weekly to-do list!

It is also important to accept and come to terms with the idea that your schedule will not always be in your control, but you can always find a way to squeeze in some time for yourself. Going with the flow, being kind to yourself, and maintaining a positive mindset goes a long way when managing the intricacies of work-life integration.

What are strategies for maintaining healthy habits during medical school?

The demanding routine of medical school can make it easy for you to pick up unhealthy habits. If you do not pay close attention to it, you can find yourself not eating regularly, or having unbalanced meals, not drinking enough water, and not exercising as much as you would like. It is important to keep in mind that for you to be your best self, and to be able to learn as much as possible, the well being of your mind, body, and soul should be a top priority. Here are some tips that you might find helpful:

  1. Eat healthy! We know that your lunch time might not be as long as it was before you started medical school, or that you might have to eat at different times each day according to your clinical schedule. The important thing is that you find time between activities and patient care to have healthy meals that can keep your energy level up for the day. Raw vegetables, fruits, natural cereal bars, yogurt, sandwiches… always carry a healthy snack with you in case your lunch gets delayed.
  2. Stay hydrated! When we are in a hurry or anxious about an exam, we often forget to drink water and do not even realize how dehydrated we are. It is good practice to carry a water bottle with you. Drink at least 750mL in the morning and another 750mL in the afternoon! Feel how your body responds and increase your intake on hot days or as needed. Staying hydrated helps concentration, memory and learning.
  3. Exercise! Staying active is key. The way you do it, that is up to you! Find the type of exercise that is most mentally relaxing to you, that makes you happy and refreshed. Long walks, hiking, short fast paced runs, lifting weights, swimming, playing tennis, basketball, soccer, dancing. It doesn’t matter what you do, only that you exercise regularly (at least 2-3 times a week). Regardless of your exercise preference, be aware of the need for fitting in short workouts during the week in between classes or clinical activities. Longer duration exercises might be better suited for weekends depending on your medical school schedule year to year.

How do you establish a mentor or someone you can turn to for career/personal advice?

Finding a mentor can be challenging, but it is arguably the most crucial to building a successful career beyond medical school. Start by simply reaching out to faculty who share similar research interests as you, or who are in a field that you may be considering. Attending various events and lectures at your school is a great first step to meeting someone that could potentially become your mentor. Your hobbies outside of medicine can be an excellent conversation starter.

If you establish a good rapport with them, keep in touch! During weeks that you have a lighter workload, try to plan ahead and schedule a time to meet with your mentor. Face-to-face discussions tend to be the most beneficial and create a long-lasting connection. Provide your mentor with regular updates about your accomplishments, and your challenges! This will keep your mentor relationship active and relevant, and allow your mentor to find ways to guide you towards success. Finally, it is okay if you end up changing your mind about your specialty in the future; they can still be a source of support for you.

As global health and global surgery become more prolific, how would you recommend getting involved in the field?

Global health and global surgery are indeed up and coming fields, and there is so much work to be done! The first and easiest way to get involved is to find whether there is a global surgery or global health student group at your institution. Over 50 institutions have a chapter of Global Surgery Student Alliance (GSSA), and most have global health interest groups. Connecting with your peers is a great way to share your interests, find out what others have been doing to pursue their interests, and collaborate on potential projects. The next step would be to find a faculty member who is doing global surgery work. Your institutions may not have a dedicated global surgery page that lists faculty, so they may be difficult to find, but keep looking! Residents and other faculty members you have a connection with are great resources, since they may have a better fund of knowledge for the research interests of their colleagues. In addition, we also recommend looking into InciSioN, an international, student-run organization dedicated to improving access to surgery around the world.

What non-program-related factors should one consider for residency (e.g. location, weather, sports, support systems, etc.)?

It is important to lay out your personal, professional, and academic goals when determining where you would want to match. Professional and academic goals are very much program-dependent, but personal goals are where all the other factors come into play.

With the stress and busy schedule of residency, a support system is invaluable to our mental health and is an important factor to consider when choosing a program. Whether that is being closer to family, or being in an urban environment that fosters a lot of human connection, having a support system can often times help put stress into perspective. Along these lines, it is also important to consider locations that support your existing hobbies. If you love being outdoors and in nature, find somewhere that you would have the access and time to fulfill these hobbies. If you enjoy good restaurants, museums, and bustling cities, then a larger, more urban environment would be perfect.


Camila R. Guetter is a sixth year medical student at Universidade Federal do Paraná and is originally from Curitiba, Brazil. In her third year of medical school, she was awarded a one-year scholarship to study Biomedical Sciences at UCLA. During her time in Los Angeles, she worked as a research student at the UCLA Translational Oncology Research Laboratories studying pancreatic cancer cell lines, and since then research has become one of her main passions. She later worked also worked as a research student at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, studying pancreatic surgery outcomes and patient education. Camila is passionate about pursuing a career in academic surgery and is very active in AWS. She is a member of the Publications Committee and is currently the Medical Student Chair of the AWS Blog Committee and the Vice Chair of the National Medical Student Committee. You can find her on Twitter at @camila_guetter.

Elisa K. Atamian is originally from New York, NY. She is currently a third year medical student at Tulane University in New Orleans. After receiving her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Human Physiology at Boston University, she spent a year in NYC completing a research thesis at NYU which discussed DNA damage leading to infertility. Her specific interests include Plastic Surgery which led her to complete a summer Research Fellowship at NYU where she studied many aspects of facial transplantation. Elisa is currently the South Regional Representative on the AWS National Medical Student Committee. Follow her on Twitter at @elisaatamian.

Uma Parikh is from Dallas, Texas. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in computational Biology and Finance. She is currently a second-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where she is very active in the surgical and global surgery student groups. Her research interests include cardiothoracic surgery outcomes and surgical education research. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in academic cardiothoracic surgery. Last year, she served as 2018-2019 Southwest Regional Representative on the AWS National Medical Student Committee. Follow her on Twitter @uma_parikh.