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  • Writer's pictureMichael Dworkin, MD

9 Lifehacks to help you stay motivated during med school

Med school is difficult. Read on for tips on how to maintain a positive perspective and stay motivated.

Break up your routine

Study at a couple different locations instead of just one. Research shows that doing so improves your retention. Go to a different library. Study at a park bench.

Be gritty

Grit is a predictor of academic performance independent of intelligence. To be gritty is to persevere and work passionately and consistently towards one's long term goals despite obstacles. Defining long term goals, and tips on how to maintain consistency of effort through scheduling, are covered in our blog on time management in medical school.

Perseverance in the face of obstacles is facilitated by maintaining a growth-mindset.

Have a growth mindset

A fixed mindset is the belief that one's intelligence and abilities are fixed and intrinsic. In contrast, a growth mindset is one characterized by the belief that one's abilities, skills, and even intelligence, can improve with persistence, practice, and grit.

To achieve a growth mindset, embrace every mistake - both the mistakes you make and the mistakes you see others make - as a learning opportunity. Mistakes contribute to the normal growing pain you can expect in any learning process. Ask yourself what you could have done differently in order to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Focus on your areas of weakness. If studying something feels uncomfortable, that probably means you are learning, so keep it up, and embrace the growing pain.

Be curious and don't be afraid to ask a question you deem silly. Just ask. If you feel embarrassed by your question, embrace the growing pain, and ask it anyway.

Give your effort and don't be afraid to fail.

Ask for feedback. If someone gives you only positive feedback, ask them to give you negative feedback. Embrace the growing pain you feel when you receive negative feedback. Ask yourself or the person giving you feedback what steps you can take to improve.

Never be complacent. Be self critical without being self-deprecating. Always seek ways to improve.

Make a checklist of manageable daily goals

Develop extracurricular interests in line with your goals

You can't and shouldn't study 100% of the time. Dedicate time to a hobby and an extracurricular activity that you enjoy that will help you develop into the kind of doctor you ultimately want to become.

For example, if you hope to go into academic medicine, mentoring local high school students for an hour each month will help you develop your mentorship skills. If you hope to be engaged in cardiovascular research, reach out to a cardiology attending and ask what research opportunities are available.

Exercise regularly

Exercising regularly lowers stress, improves cognition, and is a healthy habit to get into. If you don't have time to run for a half an hour, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT), i.e., repeating cycles of short bursts of 100% exertion followed by lower intensity rest periods. HIIT yields similar metabolic benefits in significantly less time than longer, lower intensity workout regimens.

Have good sleep hygiene

Good sleep hygiene means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, not eating or drinking anything for 2 hours before bed, avoiding blue light sources for 1-2 hours before bed, avoiding stimulants such as coffee in the afternoon and evening, avoiding daytime napping, and reserving your bed for sleep/sex alone (eating or studying in bed).

To avoid blue light before bed, try using f.lux. This shifts the colors in your computer screen to be more orange and less blue before bed.

Aim to get 6-8 hours of sleep per night (or more if you need more to feel well rested).

Know the signs of burnout

If you have chronic physical and emotional fatigue, feelings of detachment from med school, and decreased productivity attributable to chronic overwork, you have signs of burnout. Burnout can lead to depression, which is seen in 1 in 4 medical students. If depressed or burned out, talk it out with a friend, loved one, or counselor; consider consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist to help.

Ask your MedSchoolGuru for more lifehacks

Our outstanding MedSchoolGurus are called Gurus for a reason - they'll not only help you schedule your time and master the test taking skills needed to do well on USMLEs/NBMEs/Shelf exams, but will provide sage advice about how they managed to crush med school while staying motivated. If interested in which of our services might be the best fit for you, send us an email at or contact us via our contact page set up a free 15 minute phone consultation.


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