Are you ready? You’re giving up your prime. Signing away your life. No fun, no social life, no love life. Study on repeat for the next four years. You will live and breathe school and most days, you’ll be too tired to do anything else. All the snide comments started pouring in as soon as I shared that I had been accepted to medical school. What made it more annoying was that much of it came from the very people that inspired me to go into medicine in the first place (but alas, that’s another article for another time). I wasn’t convinced, though. All the doctors I had met in my lifetime had tons of hobbies – many played sports, many had a group of friends they enjoyed exploring restaurants with, others enjoyed traveling or outdoor adventures – and even more than that, some of those I knew told stories of entering medical school as singles ready to mingle and graduating with new last names and children in tow! I was skeptical of their medicine-is-the-end-of-life-as-you-know-it talk because I don’t think that they themselves gave up everything in the four years they were in school.
When my first year came, I shrugged off the fear and all the quips and comments and decided to (wo)man up to the task, keeping up with my hobbies in medical school. I have zero regrets and here’s why:
#1: Having hobbies makes you more human
Eat, sleep, study, repeat. Eat, sleep, study, repeat. I have to admit that most of the time, I am locked into an unforgiving routine that doesn’t allow for very many breaks or very much fun. I get cranky. I get hungry. I get angry. Sometimes I’m even hangry, which is even worse! It wasn’t until I began to get involved in extracurricular activities, like my school’s debate team and our intramural swim team that I noticed a shift in my mood. Practices forced me to build in a “rest day” and those few break periods throughout the week made me thrive! Engaging in things I enjoyed and incorporating them into my study forced me to break up the monotony. I gave my humanity space to grow, which in turn gave me more insight as to how I work, what helps make me become more productive and more efficient, and ultimately, what makes me a better doctor! We aren’t built for monotony – we’re built for symphony!
#2: The more we do, the better we get at managing time
I’m the kind of person that has to be busy if I want to get anything done. If I have too much time, I’m lazy; but if I have too little time, I’m an anxious mess. Busy enough is the perfect balance for me. So while in school and as a post-graduate, I’ve taken to doing odd jobs, like reviewing stationery on my Instagram account, recording a podcast and a YouTube channel to help medical students with review, and of course, writing articles for Physeo! These small activities, while not effortless, are flexible enough so that I can do them on my own time and work them into my study days, especially on days when I need a break (like today, too much UWorld means a new blog article)! And I find that having to strike a balance so that I can ensure I do all things with equal effort, and that’s something that’s helped me in all aspects of my medical career – from academics to clinical rotations.
#3: The things you enjoy remind you of who you are
I don’t know about you, but there are many days that I feel like I’ve kind of been swallowed up by this profession. And despite knowing that I could not and cannot imagine doing anything else in the world, there are moments that I forget who I am without it. On the outside, I have to be a professional, knowledgeable and competent physician; and while I love that part of me, there are days that it sometimes feels more like a burden than a dream. But sitting down at the piano, or talking to my friends about my new favorite pen, or shopping for my new planner remind me that I’m just a big dweeb in a white coat and I have found it to be the best way of keeping myself grounded, both in my values and in my purpose.
#4: Sharing your interests makes you more relatable and helps you build rapport
A friend of mine once asked jokingly, “Is that all you guys talk about now that you’re doctors?” and after a lovely evening, it really made me think about how I was relating to others. I began to notice that because I spent the majority of my twenty-four hours in school, the rest of that time studying and then a few hours sleeping each night, that much of what I had to talk about was medicine-adjacent. I was convinced to re-engage myself in activities and pastimes that I found interesting. I carved out time once a week to binge some Netflix on Sundays. I got out my journals and tried my hand at arts and crafts. And I realized that these small things helped me to become more approachable for my patients and those around me because when they asked me what I liked to do in my spare time, instead of the offhand sarcastic comment of “There’s no such thing as spare time in medicine,” I was instead able to share a recent show I discovered and they, in turn felt comfortable to converse with me! Hobbies help us retain our humanity but also help our patients see us as human, too.
#5: The life of a doctor is not supposed to be devoid of passion
I don’t know who decided to scare young doctors away from medicine with “You’ll need to give up your whole life” or “Forget about having fun,” but I sure would love to talk to them about it! The longer I’ve been out of school, the more I realize that choosing medicine does not mean and is not supposed to mean giving up everything else. Above all else, we’re people too, and people are meant to enjoy things – we’re meant to throw parties, go on hikes, sit in cafés and read books. We are meant to form friendships, find happiness and pursue our passions. We are supposed to live lives set on fire by the things we love because a passionless physician is nothing more than a lifeless robot. It is not a distraction, but our duty to explore, to enjoy, to appreciate and to fill our ordinary lives with our own little pockets of extraordinary.
So did my debates ever show up on an exam? Was I ever tested on the different kinds of gel pens and what points wrote best on paper? Did I ever have to swim to save a patient or write an emotional article to pass a class? No, to all of the above. But the debate team gave me a home and tons of nights out, eating feelings with my teammates after a terrible exam. Testing out gel pens and finding my favorites made note-taking and studying way more fun than it should have been. Swimming on our intramural swim team helped remind me to take care of my body and helped me discover the world of collegiate athletics that I would never have had a chance to otherwise. And writing, whether it be in a journal or online, helped me practice my skills so that when personal statement time came, I was prepared to tell my story.
And while I never thought I’d finally get to discovering myself in medical school, I’m certainly glad I did.