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The Myth of Doing It All: How to Find Balance as a Pre-Med Student

It’s no secret that the pre-med track is hard, but after experiencing it for myself for the past year, I will no longer take my free time for granted. In hopes of being accepted to medical school, we’re expected to perform exceptionally well in our classes (which tend to be work-intensive rigorous), volunteer, hold leadership positions, take part in extracurriculars and gain clinical experience — all while eating healthy and exercising regularly, partaking in interesting hobbies, maintaining a social life, finding time to wind down and have 7-8 hours of sleep each night. 

The expectations we hold ourselves to are, frankly, a little preposterous. It’s extremely easy to be over-involved in too many things from my personal experience but let me tell you why it isn’t wise to do that and why it’s okay to not do everything you’re told to do.

In my experience, most, if not all, pre-med students know of the “Big Four” expectations that come with this career track: GPA, service, research and leadership. While these four things sound like they could be manageable (and it could), there is a good possibility in which you can easily get lost trying to manage them all at once. 

One semester, I had balanced 17 credits, a leadership position, two to three other extracurriculars and volunteering. As if this wasn’t enough, I took whatever spare time I had to sign up for more things to take on, determined to not let a single second of my free time go to waste and ensure that it went into something productive. Of course, this didn’t work out for me. Rather than risk sacrificing one of my roles or extracurriculars, I ended up sacrificing my mental health instead. Naturally, this did not help me at all. If anything, I ended up spiraling into the biggest mental slump I have ever experienced so far.

While it took me a year to realize this, there is only so much time in a day, week, month and year. Even to this day, I still haven’t completely learned my lesson, but at least now I’m aware of the limited time I have and have been taking the necessary steps to reduce my workload. There is only so much I can do before I shut down mentally and physically, so it’s important to be kind to yourself. My mental health had gone to the gutters for the past two semesters and this affected the way I performed in my classes. This in turn had made me feel worse than I had already felt, and I couldn’t see a way out of my slump. However, over the past few months, I’ve learned several lessons on how to combat it and emerge from my lows, better than ever: 

Start small

Rather than trying to tick all your checkboxes at once and producing mediocre work as a result, it would be much wiser to start small and build up instead of taking in too many things at once and burning yourself up in the process. It will be emotionally and mentally taxing, which in turn not only affects your performance in academics, but also the way you approach life. In my experience, I noticed that I didn’t enjoy my hobbies and passions as much as I used to as a result of my poor mental health. I had no time for it anymore because I was too busy checking my boxes that I forgot to enjoy my life, even briefly.

Quality over quantity

As I mentioned earlier, one of my problems was that I bit off more than I could chew in terms of my extracurriculars and commitments. Medical schools would rather see you partake in a small handful of activities you are passionate about rather than being in eight or ten organizations you’ve only given mediocre efforts to. It is okay to cut off from a few activities if you see that you’re not enjoying them; it is not worth the mental taxation and time of trying to continue your commitment to something you aren’t passionate about.

Say no more often

It may seem counterproductive as a pre-med student to turn down opportunities that may look good on your application. However, this ties in with the quality over quantity point I made previously. As an adult, sometimes it is the best and most mature option to say “no” or “I can’t” than it is to say, “I can.” You have to learn how to prioritize and decide when you cannot do something well because you are already preoccupied with your current commitments. Take time to reconsider your values and passions, and only accept the things that appeal to what you love fully and wholeheartedly.

It’s OK to have free time

As obvious as this piece of advice may sound, I actually tend to feel guilty if I give myself any free time and it’s hard to break out of this mindset. If I find myself doing something other than what I consider “productive,” I usually always think, “I shouldn’t be _______ right now; I could be doing ________ instead.” I personally need more time to grow out of this mindset, but I understand now that it’s okay to have free time for myself now and then. Sleeping in, watching Netflix, reading, hanging out with friends and even just letting yourself breathe for once is okay. Your mental and physical health are incredibly important and should be prioritized as much as your studies. While being a doctor is a long-term goal, you should also strive to care for your happiness and health in the present. After all, you can never get your late teenage years and your twenties back, and most of us (if not all) want to be able to look back at our undergraduate years positively.

Don’t forget to engage in your passions

Drowning myself in work has led to the gradual disinterest in my passions. Art was my whole life before I started college and I could never see my life without it. However, ever since my time became consumed with classes, extracurriculars and volunteering opportunities, I found myself engaging in art less and less until it eventually became almost obsolete in my life. This is saddening to me, and it’s saddening to everyone else who sees themselves losing touch with their hobbies and passions. For the sake of your mental health, you have to make yourself prioritize your hobbies again if you wish to get back into it. This is not just for the sake of your mental health, but medical schools would love to know what you do outside of your studies and extracurriculars, too. Purposefully feeding your hobbies again after going through a slump will help reignite your passions and bring joy to your life.

I hope these pieces of advice will help you during your pre-med journey. It is so easy to become stressed, anxious, sleep-deprived and overwhelmed as a pre-med student, so that’s why you have to prioritize your free time and health, both mental and physical, as much as your studies and commitments. Do a few things well, be passionate in both your extracurriculars and hobbies and above all, enjoy the ride to medical school.

Christine is a second-year student studying at the University of Florida and is one of Her Campus UFL’s feature writers. She majors in Health Science on the pre-med track and hopes to attend medical school after graduation. When she’s not busy writing or studying, she enjoys eating sushi, hanging out with friends, and browsing TikToks.
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