Don’t Be Afraid to Stretch Yourself (Part 2)

You Can Handle the Stretch

The goal of Med Student Edge is to pass our experience and knowledge to the readers in hopes of giving you a leg up. In Part 1, I told you a story of one of my big mistakes in medical school. I told you how I justified prioritizing studying over all other activities. This was a flawed mindset that I was thankfully able to somewhat mitigate before it was too late. In Part 2, I want to encourage you to stretch yourself a bit and try new endeavors as you navigate your path towards your chosen career.

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At the very beginning of med school, focusing primarily on study habits and developing a routine is a great use of your time. It is important to focus your efforts towards developing solid study strategies that are efficient and effective for you (how to study for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2). Coming from undergrad, this can take some time to master. But once you find your groove, you should open yourself up and get involved with activities that will develop your CV and professional identity.  It is better to overstretch and re-evaluate, than to play it safe and miss valuable experiences along the way.

“It is better to overstretch and re-evaluate, than to play it safe and miss valuable experiences along the way.”

Dr. Alan Gambril, Contributor, Med Student Edge

How do you know when you are ready to stretch yourself? Avoid my mistake of realizing it late into your medical school career. The answer is different for each individual and will come at different times. A common theme, however, is that you probably won’t ever feel ready to take on more roles. That’s okay. Navigating medical school in and of itself is a constant challenge and it may make you feel uncomfortable to assume additional responsibilities.  Despite the initial anxiety of beginning a new endeavor, you are quite capable of slowly integrating more activities into your medical education.  If the demands and pressures of academics alone are negatively affecting your mental health and you are struggling to survive day-to-day (this common, and perfectly okay; seek help early and often), then wait until you are physically, mentally, and emotionally sound before making major changes to your workload (See Part 3).

“Seek help early and often.”

Dr. Alan Gambril, Contributor, Med Student Edge

Intermittently stretching our roles in a step-by-step fashion is what allows us to grow into successful physicians in a high-stakes, ever-changing field that requires lifelong learning and commitment.  You’ve gotten this far because you deserve it. Try to fight off the draining evil of Impostor Syndrome (it’s real, but a different topic for a different day), and trust your ability to grow. It’s how you distinguish yourself from other classmates, all of whom are equally intelligent and driven.

As I mentioned in Part 1, it is more likely your grades will, at worst, drop a few insignificant points. Remember, no one will ever ask you in an interview, “Why did you make 82 on your cardiology module exam instead of the 86 average you’d been holding?” It just won’t happen. Grades are boring and one-dimensional. On the other hand, interviewers will definitely ask you to describe your research experience or discuss this charity you were involved with. Activities and projects are multi-faceted, show your unique interests and skills, and mark you as a well-rounded resident applicant that carries respected life and professional experiences. That is more valuable than a few test points along the way, and they can’t ask about a project experience that never existed.

What sort of roles might you seek out to build your professional portfolio? Your options can include anything from shadowing in fields of interest, networking with resident and attending mentors, taking part in a research project, donating time to a community service you are passionate about, medical education projects, or anything else you find worthy of your time and professionally beneficial. When you’re well diversified, you can also create your own opportunities. The key is to find something you are interested in and will simultaneously provide value to you. You will also find your activity of choice will provide an engaging, enjoyable, rewarding, and refreshing change from studying.  Dedicating just a few hours a week to non-academic activities will make your medical school experience more enjoyable and build you into a higher quality residency applicant.

What ways could you be spending your time to develop your skills outside of the classroom?

Back to more medical school basics and resources.

Alan Gambril, MD
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