Online medical school until… at least the end of this year?! Not going to lie, when COVID-19 hit, transitioning online in the middle of a term was very hectic to say the very least. Watching lectures while half asleep in my childhood bed, trying to navigate my barking quarantine puppy, my interrupting siblings who were so excited to have me back home, my loud parents talking on the phone, and the neighbor’s kid’s drive-by birthday party were all things I did not anticipate to ever encounter in medical school. As I get settled into my second year of school with new tools to prepare myself for the new reality of online medical school, I thought I’d share my tips to minimizing stress and optimizing productivity while staying at home!
Tip #1: Create a routine
Wake up at the same time every day and attend lectures as if you had them on campus! I find that changing out of my pajamas, going down to my kitchen to make and eat breakfast before lecture, as well as making my bed (so I’m less tempted to flop back into it) helps me wake up in the morning and feel like I’m actually going somewhere! It’s SO tempting to roll out of bed and log on to zoom while half asleep, but I really find that sticking to a routine makes you feel like you have some semblance of a normal school life and helps you actually absorb what you’re learning. Mind over matter here!
With that being said, also stick to your usual nighttime routine of cutting yourself off from studying when you usually do. Since you may lose the physical separation of school/home life it’s important to create those boundaries in other ways!
Tip #2: Study at a desk/designated space
Don’t give in to the temptation of watching lectures in bed (trust me from prior experience)! It’s so accessible, but try to study at a desk, or another area of the house if possible, in order to create boundaries between schoolwork and home life! Even though my bed is about 2 feet away from my desk, and the library is still, unfortunately, inaccessible to me, I try my best to make a conscious effort to use my office chair and desk only during lecture, small group, and studying!
Try to also minimize distractions as much as possible! When I have small groups I ask my family to be quiet for that 2 hour period so that I’m not embarrassed by them screaming at me to come get food as I try to get through clinical cases and the confusing world of online clinical skills.
Tip #3: Use online resources
If you find zoom lectures lacking substance and lacking the typical in-person attention (like me), try to invest in some online medical school resources if possible (or watch the tons of free YouTube videos available)! Transitioning online means that self-learning is even more important, but this can be so difficult to do when going to office hours or studying with friends isn’t as easy as skipping into your roommates’ room next door!
Personally, I’ve found myself relying on external resources, such as Physeo, YouTube videos, etc. in order to optimize my learning and understand lectures at a deeper level. For YouTube videos I usually just type in the topic I’m on and watch whatever has a good amount of views already! There are a lot of online resources available, and I really recommend choosing one or two to stick to.
Tip #4: Create a rigorous schedule
I’ve always been a serial schedule maker, but now with new distractions and a new way of learning, making a strict and well-thought-out schedule matters even more. It’s easy to lose time staying at home — I get so distracted from mundane things my family is doing or from my puppy wanting attention. I personally make hourly schedules because it helps me see where my time is going and if I’m wasting time. I’ll even schedule breaks so that I have an hour to take my puppy for a walk.
This is so important because, (at least for me) I have even more distractions being at home, so being accountable for my time is that much more important. I find that not having my peers with me to hold me accountable is an easy way to fall behind, so it’s necessary to find that accountability within myself.
Tip #5: Stay active and healthy
These are unprecedented times. It’s normal to feel anxious, frustrated, angry etc. when so much is uncertain and the mode of learning is so different than what we’re used to or what we expect. Continue to stay active in whatever safe ways you can — I try to go for runs or watch YouTube fitness videos in order to still get workouts in when I can. It’s so important to still continue to take breaks and make time to keep your body and mind healthy.
Eat good foods! If you were somebody who previously meal-prepped, continue doing that and putting good fuel into your body. You really do have to take care of yourself before you do anything else especially during these trying times!
Tip #6: Stay connected with school friends through FaceTime study sessions!
The social support systems we make in medical school are truly a big part of how we make it through difficult times. I struggled really hard with the online transition at first, because I went from living with my best friends who motivated me to work harder everyday, to suddenly being across the country, in a different time zone, and struggling to get myself out of bed to study.
I find that FaceTime study sessions are very necessary because it’s so important to keep your social networks alive. And there really is nothing quite like complaining with your peers that makes you feel so much better about how you’re not the only one who feels like you’re dying from the overwhelming beast that is medical school!
We’re all in a very unique position here and one that I’m sure we will look back upon with mixed emotions. It’s definitely scary and hard to navigate school in this era, but I hope these tips help you remind yourself to be disciplined, diligent, accountable, and never forget to take care of your physical and mental health! What are some ways that you’re surviving online med school?