Let’s make this clear from the beginning: you CAN and WILL have a life while in med school while still succeeding academically. Many people decide to opt out of med school out of fear of losing their status of social butterfly and entering the life of a hermit crab. I like hermit crabs, they’re pretty cool critters, but I certainly do not live the life of one. Just like they told you when applying to undergrad, extracurriculars are important not only for your resume, but for your sanity.
Everyone has a talent or hobby that they like to indulge in their free time. However, once they start med school, they have trouble balancing their study time with their study breaks and end up either performing poorly or giving up all activities in order to salvage their grades. The trick is to have good time management skills and to stay organized. I started my first semester with the intention of joining every club and serving as a member of the student council. I was elected to a position in the council and participated in several clubs, but noticed that my grades began to slip and that I was having trouble with giving enough time to my positions. I decided to stop attending club meetings and finished my term in the student council without running for re-election in order to save my grades before it was too late. Basically, I cut all ties with anything that did not involve my books.
However, although I now had more time for studying, I was unhappy as I enjoyed being committed to something outside of my notes as it was a fresh breath of air in the middle of intense studying. Solution? I changed my study habits; instead of dozing on the train I began to study during those hours. I woke up earlier and spent some time reviewing my notes before class. I tried a different approach that allowed me to focus more and retain information well in less time. By making those changes, I was able to set more time aside for extracurriculars, and thus was able to strike a balance that benefitted me socially without harming me in the process.
Its important to socialize with other students and health professionals as everyone helps one another, and connections do make a huge difference when it comes to applying for residencies. Start by joining a club that you feel you are passionate about, and apply for a position. Even if you don’t win the election, participate as a member and try your best to get the most out of it. I’ve honestly learned most of my clinical knowledge at health screenings where I’ve seen cases you don’t normally get to see until rotations in fourth year, so those are a good idea to start attending from first year. Even if you don’t know what’s going on, observation will go a long way and soon you will be comfortable enough doing screenings on your own. If you enjoy sports, join the school team, or set an hour or two to play with your buddies during the weekends or a day in which you get out of class early. I study for most of the day, but give myself about an hour to write this blog every day, even the night of exams. It’s really a psychological kind of thing, if you are looking forward to doing something, you will have a goal and will be eager to complete your work as soon as possible. As Muslims, we should be the best time managers, and we learn from the example of the Prophet Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him) who spent time with his family and Companions (RA) while spreading the message of Islam to all of humanity. Socializing is important, and being in med school is not an excuse. You wouldn’t like to be examined by a doctor who can’t speak to you about anything but his practice, so why should you be allowed to do so as a student? Study hard, but make sure to have some enjoyable time for yourself as well.