Don’t Be Afraid to Stretch Yourself (Part 3)

What if I Do Overstretch Myself?

In Part 1, I discussed the many missed opportunities that arose from my fear of taking on new roles. In Part 2, I reviewed strategies for taking on new roles and your ability to handle more than you think. Here, I will discuss how to recognize if you do find yourself stretched too thin.

You are incredibly intelligent and hardworking, but we are all susceptible to taking on too much at once. Maybe you added too many new roles, or one new role is more work than anticipated. This is not the end of the world. In fact, it can be turned into a great learning experience that you can leverage into discussion points in interviews. When you feel that you may becoming overwhelmed, it is important to take things step-by-step, recognize the overload early, seek help, make adjustments, and learn from the experience. Let’s look at these individually.


The simplest strategy to avoid overload is to add new tasks in a step-wise fashion. Making multiple, small work-life balance adjustments with each new role is easier than one giant leap. You can’t scale a twenty-foot wall, but you can easily climb twenty feet of stairs by breaking the climb into manageable pieces.

Recognize Overload Early

We are all used to excelling, and it is hard to be honest enough with yourself to realize you’ve taken on too much. You might be losing sleep, neglecting responsibilities, or see your test scores drop significantly. It is quite possible that you maintain the same high level of performance, but your work-life balance may have been jeopardized and your mental health may be suffering. Whatever the case, it is important to be honest enough with yourself to recognize that you are overwhelmed.  You may have to rely on close friends or family to point it out for you.  Listen to them.  They care about your well-being.

Seek Help

Thankfully we live in a period of medicine where wellness is valued and emphasized, rather than stigmatized. If your medical school is anything like mine was, there are numerous avenues available to seek help in any area you need. Most schools have offices of student services, diversity and inclusion, counseling, academic support, small groups, or designated mentors that provide various resources to students. Additionally, everyone has their own personal support systems of friends and family. It takes strength to seek help. Please don’t be shy or afraid. Med Student Edge is always here as a resource, so please reach out to us. Your well-being is important to us.

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Make Adjustments

Through continual self-reflection and seeking help, you will identify actionable changes. For example, during my first year of medical school, I fell behind at one point and could not seem to catch up. I found that, as a morning person, by waking up an hour earlier, I was more efficient with studying and could focus my waning afternoon attention span on more stimulating extracurricular tasks. Maybe you need to tweak study strategies, change study materials, delegate tasks, remove yourself from a time-consuming involvement you aren’t passionate about, or focus on your mental health. Whatever you identify as a solution, be flexible and commit to it.

Learn from the Experience

Setbacks and disappointments happen. As in every aspect of life, the key is to learn from each experience. Understand why you struggled, how your adjustments are solving the problem, and employ these concepts moving forward. Intentional reflection is a great practice to clarify these concepts with yourself and can help you formulate a great answer for potential interview questions down the road.

In conclusion, it is not a bad thing to overextend yourself and become overwhelmed. It happens. Learn from it and move forward. That is how we grow as physicians and as humans. As I’ve written, it is always better to overstretch and regroup than it is to under-stretch and miss opportunities. Recognize when it happens, seek help early and often, learn from the experience, and apply what you learn. Med Student Edge is here to help you with each step.

Do you feel that you’ve taken on too much responsibilities? How do you handle balancing school, extracurricular, and life? Comment below or contact us directly.

Back to more medical school basics.

Alan Gambril, MD
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