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Six Ways to Instantly Get Motivated in Medical School

May 7, 2018

New outlook, who dis?


One of the first things they tell you when you get to medical school is that the next four years will be like “drinking water from a firehose.” What they don’t mention is how doing so will affect your mental health.




The daily grind of class, flashcards and practice questions can beat our happiness down to a pulp. The worst feeling of defeat is checking your email for the grade you hoped for and finding the grade everyone fears. That despite all your hard work, you still didn’t quite make the mark.


There’s no shame in getting knocked down, as long as you bounce back stronger and ready start fighting again. Use these tips to keep yourself motivated and focused.


Give yourself a compliment


I’m the type of person who tends to overthink my actions, Monday morning quarterbacking my choices of the day. I wish I did this better or I should have done that. Put those negative thoughts to rest through the science of self compliments.


Making it through high school, graduating from college and making it into Med school is a serious achievement. Hell just getting out of bed to do all the things you do every day is an accomplishment.



Recognizing the things that make you special has a profound effect on your confidence. There’s enough people in this world who will try to bring you down and make you feel lesser than.  Take a moment each day and write down one thing you like about yourself.


Reward your Hard Work


Whether it's ordering out some sushi rolls and shrimp tempura or grabbing a beer with your friends, find ways to reward yourself after working hard. When I was studying for Step 1, I’d reward my correct UWorld answers with a Haribo gummy bear.


Apply the concepts of positive reinforcement to your routine, it works.




Set (Achievable) Goals


Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect that 270 by cramming the night before. Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.


Bad goal: Try and do most of my flash cards.


Why is  this a bad goal? For one, it’s not measurable! How will you know when you’ve done “most” of something? 51%? 70%? Second, this goal is not Specific: what is the aim or point of this goal? Making a goal specific means clearly describing why you’re trying to accomplish it in the first place. Last, it's not time-bound. Not much point to keeping this goal if you finish it after you’ve already matched into a residency program.


Good goal: In order to complete all 6000 flashcards in my deck before I take Step 1 in six weeks, every day after finishing listening to lecture reviews I’ll do 150 Anki flashcards.


The revised goal is Specific, at a specific time do a specific task, Measurable, in the short term and the long term I will know when I’m finished, Achievable, bite size portions done every day add up, Relevant, flashcards directly increase my scores on exams, and Time-bound, I’ll easily complete my task within the set time limit. Long story short, my goal is now SMART!




Take A Break


A hundred years of research has shown that getting physical exercise and sunshine improves mood and brain functioning. It’s no different than pounding another cup of coffee, get your heart pumping.


My go to is a set of 20 pushups followed by 20 squats. I find that after this short (5 minute) work out I’m energized and more focused for studying.


But, if you have time, go to the gym, for a run, to the beach, or to the park, and you’ll find an added bonus of contemplation and a feeling of freshness when you return to your study space.





Be Around People Who Make you Happy


Not everyone you meet in med school is going to make you feel good about yourself. The dense population of type A personalities ratchets up the stress level of every conversation.


You know the type, somehow able to steer every conversation back to how unprepared they are for an upcoming exam, then begin listing the ways they’ve been over preparing for it. Find friends who allow you to be you without stressing about med school 24/7.


Keep your eye on the goal:


The decision to apply to med school and dedicate the next 7+ years to training to be a physician isn’t a spur of the moment choice. When you applied, you had a dream in mind, a goal.


Imagine turning your short white coat into a long one, or having your name with the letters MD behind it. Whatever helps you find your drive, keep it in your mind when times get tough.


Being in medical school doesn’t mean being miserable for four years, I don’t care if you are a straight honor roll student or you barely passed Anatomy class, anyone can use these simple methods to stay focused on your goals and finishing med school.


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