I briefly toyed with the idea of making this a gag blog, and just saying “Haha, what free time?” and ending it there. But for those of you who actually do have a few free minutes every day, you might actually find some of the things on this list helpful. So out of the kindness of my heart, I’ll give you a proper list of helpful and fun things to do/Netflix alternatives with the little spare time you have in your busy schedules.
- A part-time job
Because the academic stresses of medical school aren’t tough enough, there’s also the constant pressure of a constantly-growing debt looming over the four years you spend in medical school. The good news is, finding a part-time job could really make a difference to the latter issue; the bad news is, that same part-time job could also add pressure to the former issue, because it detracts from the time you have available to study. My recommendation is find a part-time job that allows you to relax and take your mind off medicine, which can act as part of your ‘rest and relaxation time’, while simultaneously mitigating some of that serious debt that just keeps accumulating. I currently work as a tutor and a line cook part-time, but it’s really up to you to find a job that you can find yourself relaxed in.
If you have free time, and want to be productive with it, engage in some research. Ask your attendings/professors, pester your residents/tutors, cold-call any doctor that has ever been in the same room as you, to see if they have any projects that a medical student could hop in on. Not only is this one way to add to perhaps the most important part of your CV, but it’s also a sure-fire way to grow your connections, which can only benefit you later on, whether it be in the form of a recommendation letter or further research opportunities somewhere down the line. Throwing yourself into research is the single most productive thing you can do with your free time.
Not into research? If you’re happy to wait until later in your career to start researching, or if you’re happy to be a career medical officer and never end up specialising, then another productive way to spend your free time is by just reading. It doesn’t really matter what books you read, you’re almost certain to derive some kind of benefit from it. I’ve recently been reading books on personal finance, because personal finance is one of those things everybody has to do but nobody really knows anything about. I just learned what things were tax deductible, and actually found out how super/a 401k works – all benefits I certainly wouldn’t have gained if I had just stayed on TikTok or watched Netflix all day as I usually do.
- Dedicated relaxation activities
Scheduling in relaxation sessions can be one of the best ways to spend your free time. If you have the funds, spend a dedicated weekend treating yourself with some retail therapy. If your thing is long walks or baths, make time for that. For me, I love binging content on Netflix (and now Disney+), but the problem is, I always feel the crushing anxiety of academic pressure nagging away at me while I sing along to ‘Let It Go’ for the fifth time in a week. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed my own personal free time the way normal people do, and chances are, neither can you. Watching Netflix with a constant sense of guilt or finishing what was meant to be a relaxing walk with an overwhelming sense of regret isn’t that conducive to relaxation – if anything, I feel more on edge because I feel as though I wasted a few hours not studying or being productive. By scheduling dedicated relaxation time, you can afford to forget some of your medical school problems because you’ve actually made a schedule for when you will deal with those problems later.
While I admit exercise as a mode of relaxation isn’t for everyone, most people also dismiss it far too early. Most of my peers are simply too lazy to start running, so they brush off the possibility that exercising is something they’d be into. However, most people with established healthy habits will tell you that the first step is the hardest to take – once you (slowly) start to build up a routine, exercise is a natural and automatic thing, and becomes one of the best ways to unwind after a stressful day, something that is sorely needed in the hectic lifestyle of a junior doctor.
- Start a journal (or a blog!)
In previous blog posts, I’ve established that reflection is a critical component of success in medical students. One of the best ways to get started on that journey of ongoing self-appraisal and self-improvement is to start a journal. If you’re comfortable airing your thoughts out in the public eye, you can turn it into a blog as well. Essentially, the simple act of writing down your thoughts helps you better understand yourself and your needs (and perhaps your weaknesses too). It also allows you to come back to your thoughts later, and appraise them from a more neutral standpoint, removed from the events or emotions that moved you to write that particular entry, which is a key component of appraising your own perspectives and shortcomings. Starting a journal is simply the easiest way to remain reflective and to practice contentment.
- Pick up some hobbies
In yet another callback (the self-promotion never ends), one of my other previous entries outlined some hobbies that helped me in medical school. Certain hobbies help you develop transferable skills that can make your medical school journey just that little bit easier. For me, drumming helped me develop rhythm and a keen ear that helped with cardiac auscultation; drawing helped me come up with my own memory palaces/image mnemonics to help with tricky memorisations; and tutoring helped me develop an almost unlimited patience that has helped improve my bedside manner and my ability to just put up with other medical students in general. Picking up any hobby can not only help you destress and take your mind off medicine, but can also help develop some nifty skills to help you in your medical career as well.
- Make time for friends
The people you surround yourself with really do determine the kind of person you become. While you’re probably older than ten and are no longer in your formative years, your friends still have the ability to influence you. It might very well be too late to fix your pessimistic attitudes or your edgy sense of humour, but having friends who know you well will form a powerful support network that can help you when you need it most. Investing in your relationships is one of the most powerful things you can do to make yourself a better person and a safer medical practitioner, because knowing you have the safety and security that comes with a good support network can make you a more confident and self-assured doctor. If you only have a few minutes in your overwhelmingly busy day, give one of your friends a phone call; if you have a few hours, grab a coffee with them.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of things you can do with your free time in medical school, it certainly does provide a list of good alternatives to your usual routine. I have found myself benefiting from trying all of these activities on this list, so I challenge you to have a go at just one of them (not the Netflix one, that doesn’t count), and see if that makes a difference in your life. Be sure to let me know in the comments if it does!