Have you ever seen one of your medical student friends do a suture or delicate procedure, and simply been amazed that they had never done it before? Or maybe is there just that one friend who manages to hear all of the murmurs and crackles that you can’t? Or that one dude who could recreate every anatomical diagram in the lecture slides while you sat and struggled to put together a line diagram of the heart (and then gave up and drew either a box with four chambers or straight-up drew a cartoon-style love heart)? Well, a lot of these skills are things that take countless hours of practice. The fact that someone can pick it up for the first time and do it well means that clearly, they’ve got something else going on in their lives that has some transferable skills that makes them amazing at med-related procedures too. Here’s a list of some of the hobbies that helped me the most as a medical student:
Playing the drums since age 12 has been a godsend for my auscultation abilities. There is nothing more awkward than standing over a patient, stethoscope on their chest, listening as hard as you can for their valvular pathologies, only to give up after fifteen seconds (an awkwardly long time to be standing over someone), head hanging in shame, to tell your attending you didn’t hear anything – or so I’m told. The reality is, having a sense of rhythm and a keen ear has helped me hear virtually every pathology I’ve come across. I’ve been able to discern loud S1’s, loud S2’s, mid-systolic clicks, ejection clicks, and all matter of murmurs to the amazement of my peers (they won’t ever admit that they’re amazed, but I can tell from the dirty looks they give me), and it’s all thanks to the drums. So next time you struggle to auscultate that aortic stenosis murmur, just blame it on the fact that you didn’t learn how to play the drums as a child.
- Being a part-time line cook
Being a cook in any capacity is one of the most stressful experiences in the world. You have to juggle twenty different things at once, and also be listening for the next order, and also be communicating with your other line cooks to see how long on the fish or if the garnish is ready. That ability to constantly multi-task in the face of overwhelming immediate stress has served me in two ways. Firstly, it’s helped me learn strategies to cope with the overwhelming immediate stress of medical school; and secondly, sometimes it has helped almost acclimatise me to that stress, because no matter how tough medical school is, my last shift on the line was almost always harder.
Explaining the same thing over and over again without going mad is a definite skill most people don’t have, but I think doing this literally daily in my high-school tutoring job has really developed my patience. I’m sure you’ve all met patients who won’t stop going on and on about life lessons and persistently give you spiritual advice when all you can think about is how long it’s been since you had anything to eat (probably over eight hours if your schedules are anything like mine). Most of my peers at that point would probably just leave; come up with some kind of excuse to go, and try to be more productive elsewhere. However, with my knack for patience developed in part by my experience tutoring, I’ve always been able to engage with those patients for as long as they want (til they even eventually end up sick of me sometimes!). These patients have probably been brushed over countless times by busy nurses and busier residents, simply needing someone to talk to, and as a medical student, the least you can do is hear them out. I try to as much as I can, and I think tutoring has definitely helped with that.
- Being able to smash down a cheeky choccy milk in 10 seconds
This isn’t really a hobby that’s helped me medically, I just wanted to brag about this universal Australian skill.
- The gym
It’s very difficult to maintain motivation to continue working hard. And one of the reasons for that is because it’s easy to become discouraged from things when you don’t see yourself improving immediately. Without concrete measurements and progress markers, your motivation for any activity will naturally dip with time. This is a particular problem with studying, because there’s no consistent numbers you can use to track your progress. Tests only come every so often, and are often on different topics or disciplines, so there’s no way to use those to judge your general progress (because sometimes you just don’t care about biochemistry and lo and behold, your tests are on biochemistry). The benefit of exercising, whether it be at the gym or simply going on regular runs, is that you can almost always quantify your progress. Seeing the weights stack up heavier and heavier, or shaving that extra minute off your five-mile run, is so invigorating, and refreshes your motivation to continue grinding. By seeing definite improvements due to your efforts, regular exercise can help keep you motivated by constantly reminding you that your hard work studying will indeed pay off.
- Video games
Yes, I also gave up video games at the age of 18. (If you’re halfway through medical school and still haven’t, maybe now is the time – yes, you need a way to relax, but I would instead recommend reading a book or picking up one of the hobbies above, which have transferable skills, and at the very least make for good talking points to allow you to seem more interesting and well-rounded). The value I got from this was the steadiest hands that all of my microbiology and biochemistry demonstrators had ever seen. I’d been playing Halo since the tender age of 5 (explains a lot about me) all the way to the end of high school, and the absolute pinpoint precision with which I wielded my pipettes was astounding, even to myself. Now that I’m in my clinical years, that fine motor coordination is helping me with my hand ties and sutures. So for the kids out there, don’t let anybody say video games are no help to your future.
- Photography and videography
The main takeaway from this hobby is just that it allows me to seriously judge all the people who took the pictures in most of our textbooks today. The absolute carelessness and disregard for the image vectors and lighting makes my brain itch, but maybe more importantly, the terrible angles and contrast make it difficult to identify what that particular skin lesion should actually look like. The actual benefit that this hobby gave me is an instant appreciation of how all of the images actually matched up with the 3D anatomy. CT and MRI orientation never threw me off, because I had done more weird and wacky angles in my time behind the camera, and distinguishing AP from PA chest X-rays became a breeze when I picked up on where everything was compared to the thirds of the image.
We here at Physeo believe strongly in the power of image mnemonics, or memory palaces (see our microbiology and pharmacology videos for proof!). But while seeing what others have drawn is helpful and efficient, drawing your own memory palaces is the ultimate surefire way to instantly remember any fact, because that image and its associations were created entirely by you. Also, it’s helpful if sometimes you just need a way to remember things like the chromosomal translocations affected in all the different types of lymphomas, and the easiest way of remembering super-niche things without existing image mnemonics is to simply make your own. In addition, the ability to recreate anatomical diagrams quickly is pretty handy, not just for examinations but also for your surgical rotations, where you need to quickly revise your visceral anatomy before you enter the theatre tomorrow.
So, all in all, I had a couple of pretty handy hobbies that have helped me in my medical school journey. If you’ve tried a couple of these hobbies before, maybe they would’ve also helped you in ways you didn’t realise previously. But even if you haven’t shared any hobbies with me, think about how the things you might be interested in could impact your own medical career. If you don’t have any hobbies because you’re too preoccupied with studying, you can try picking one of these up, because it could be a way for you to develop some of the more nuanced skills that your lecturers can’t teach you.