Sarah Clifford Illustration

Illustrated medicine and biology notes by Sarah Clifford

The official website of Sarah Clifford Illustration - illustrated video tutorials by postgraduate medical student and biology tutor Sarah Clifford.

Stress and the Med Student

   First thing's first - when are all of your end of year exams? And more importantly, how much time do you get off before you start the next year? I feel like I really don't know much about medical schools around the world! In the UK, university exams are usually in May/June, and we go back around August/September. In June this year I finished my third year exams, flew to South East Asia to travel for five weeks of forgetting all about study, and I start my final year of med school in mid-August! 

Sarah Clifford Illustration Backpack

   Now that I'm flying home (as I write this) and starting to think about the year ahead which holds a lot of exams, tests, practical assessments and all round grilling to ensure that we will be competent doctors within the year, I thought it would be useful to reflect on how to keep cool and relaxed during a potentially petrifying year of non-stop assessment.

Sarah Clifford Illustration Mountain

   Luckily, as med students, this is a skill we have had to practice and refine many, many, many, maaaany times. Seriously - how many times before exams have you thought "Oh dear God there is no way I can do this, I am going to die, it's over, please tell my family I love them" And each time, you've come through. That, my friends, is the ultimate training, and we should always remember how much of it we have already endured.

   I love studying medicine, but it's undeniable that the run up to exams takes some serious mind muscle and a will of carbon fibre (got to be strong, but do not get heavy). One thing I've realised is that you have to be realistic with your studies. It's a massive challenge to fit in all of the material, but it would still be a massive challenge even if you had a whole year as your revision period. Medicine is vast... Ridiculously vast. I personally have resigned to the fact that there is no way I will be able to learn all of it for my exams. Or ever, for that matter. I think this can be a really stressful concept for a lot of medical students.

   To get into med school in most cases requires you to have aced your academic studies up until that point. You have probably become used to going into exams in the past feeling confident that you've covered absolutely everything you need to know, at least once. 

Sarah Clifford Illustration Pizza

   In my opinion, if you set yourself up with that same goal for medicine, then there's no limit to the amount of study you have to put in. My point is, you could spend every waking minute of every day studying, and you still wouldn't have learned everything. Because of this, I believe it's really important to set limits on the amount of time you spend studying and just focus on being efficient in that time. Like pizza... You shouldn't have too much, so you have to make the most of the slices you have. Here is my daily study quota as a 24 hour pizza clock! (Notice - 10 hours of study and 8 hours of good solid sleep still leaves you with 6 hours to play with!).

   I think it's so important not to neglect the things you enjoy during this time. Even when everyone around you is stressing out, losing sleep, losing their hair, beards growing, skin falling off.. Whatever. Stress is contagious. It's also really bad for the "soul" (I don't entirely know what that means, but I KNOW it's true). It's also bad for the body. That one has more solid evidence. When it sneaks up on you, it's useful to remember why you're even in this situation. Presumably we are all doing medicine because we believe it will make us happy. Whatever your reasons, I'd like to bet that one way or another, the end goal is happiness. So why let yourself feel unhappy in the process? It defeats the point, surely!

Sarah Clifford Illustration Life

   This is how I justify taking breaks to do the stuff I enjoy. Even things like going for a run, doing a food shop, seeing friends/family/boyfriend/girlfriend, watching films, even just going for a walk! All of these things make me feel happy and relaxed, and I will make sure that they fit into my final year routine.

   If for whatever reason I have an internal argument with myself about not having enough time or needing to catch up, the "pro-chill" side of me can throw in the point that regular breaks are proven to improve your function! 

   So how do all of you cope? What are your strategies, and what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of revision/exam period? I think it would be great for us to share tips and feelings - we're all in the same boat, and I'd love to hear your experiences! Feel free to comment below!