Coping with stress during medical school

August 26, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Congrats! If you made it to medical school, that’s an accomplishment to celebrate. But along with the excitement of learning new things and caring for patients, may come a bit of stress. Understanding why stress may occur and how to deal with it can help keep you healthy mentally and physically during med school.

Why all the stress?

Stress is a common side effect of med school. Even if you’re someone who is typically mellow, medical school can test your nerves. First, there is a lot of work. Between classes, lab work and clinical rotations, there is a lot to handle. Just juggling the workload can be stressful.

Some people also have pressure to do well from their family, professors and even themselves. It’s also a big responsibility to care for patients and in some cases have their life in your hands. Add in a little fatigue and sleep deprivation, which is common during med school, and it’s no wonder students get stressed.

Consequences of stress

When you’re stressed, the body has a physical response. For example, if you sense danger, your body’s flight or fight response kicks in. The fight or flight response causes a chain reaction. Certain hormones are released, your senses become sharper and adrenalin gives you energy.

Those physical reactions served an important propose back in the day. For instance, if early man was chased by a predator, the fight or flight response kicked in which helped him either flee or fight back.

In today’s world, most people are not running from predators. But the stress response remains the same. Your body still releases certain hormones when you’re stressed, even though all stress is not dangerous. Those hormones can have a negative effect on your health if stress becomes chronic.

Chronic stress can lead to a variety of physical and emotional issues. For example, stress can lead to a decreased immune system, depression, and anxiety. Stress can also lead to making medical mistakes, which is the last thing you want during medical school.

Reducing stress during med school

Some level of stress is probably inevitable during med school, but it does not have to be overwhelming. There are several things you can do to ease stress and deal with all the responsibilities of medical school. Consider some of the following:

Find healthy ways to unwind: Find healthy ways to deal with stress, such as exercising, listening to music and pursuing hobbies. Everyone needs a little downtime to recharge and unwind. Regardless of how busy you are, make a little time each week to relax.

Keep perspective: Although you always want to do your best, it’s impossible to be perfect. Mistakes and missteps occur. Don’t freak out if you don’t do as well as you expected on a test or during a clinical rotation. Keep perspective and remember medical school is a marathon.

Take it one day at a time: If you think about all the training you have ahead, it can be overwhelming. Instead of looking ahead to exams, matching, and residency, take it one step at a time.

Develop a support system: Rely on your friends, family, and classmates to help you get through the difficult times. A strong support system can help you deal with stress and remember what’s really important.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.