How to do Extracurriculars in medical school 

Balancing studying in medical school with a social life and extra-curriculars can be very tricky. This blog explores time management from the perspective of a medical student competing for their country in hockey.

 

Why am I writing this blog?

As a medical student you are often told that there is little to no time for any extra-curricular activities. In my first 2 years of medical school I competed for the U21 Scotland hockey squad and in my 3rd , 4th and 5th year I have been competing as part of the Scotland senior hockey team and the Great Britain elite development squad. I am constantly asked by Doctors and my peers how I fit everything in or they tell me that what I am doing isn’t possible alongside a medical degree. I am writing this blog to discuss that idea that you cannot have a life outside of medical school and to discuss some of the ways to allow you to continue with other hobbies or passions.

Even if you enjoy more casual sports I hope you find my blog post an interesting read and maybe an inspiration to take something up!

 

Top tips:

 

Prepare in advance

Not much free time. Planning my week in advance allows me to know the days when I will struggle to have any free time but also know the days or time in the day when I can just relax.

Knowing the busy days means I can prepare my meals for the day before and know when I need to have my kit in the car ready to go straight from placement. Then when I have free time I can plan in some revision or just some time to chill by myself or with friends/family.
I ensure I have a full rest day in my week where I don’t do any placement or training of any sort, this gives me room to breathe and reset.
Also having a plan means I don’t feel pressure from my student peers to be in the library or pressure when I see my teammates on Strava doing extra training or fitness.
When you are planning you also need to take into consideration what deadlines you have. I am the student who leaves things till last minute, however sometimes my last minute is not when the deadline is but it is on the days when I have the time to do it.
With all this planning, you need to know your limits. Sometimes you can try fit too much into one week or your revision expectations are too high and this can really get you down. Don’t try learn 3 topics in one week – be realistic and be kind to yourself.

Lastly you need to be adaptable. Prepare to be flexible with your schedule. Placements can run over, teachings can be double the time as promised, exam dates may change and competitions may be added very last minute.

 

It is okay not to be okay!

Doing medicine can be tough. You may have a mentally challenging day with the patients that you see and this can really take a toll on your mood or you may have had a bad encounter with another doctor or felt so out of depth on the ward. All of this is normal, and it isn’t a bad thing to feel defeated by it or just generally not okay. If you have had all of this and then you need to go to training or have meetings it is sometimes the last thing you want/need. In this scenario, I try tell myself that I just need to get through the rest of the day and accept that I might not train as well tonight or I may not be as chatty as normal in that meeting. This may get worse in the run up to exams or selection for a competition but thinking about my previous tip – planning – this can really help to make sure I am in the best place I can be for either exams and/or selection. Importantly don’t be afraid to use the support around you and ask for help. The medical school/university have resources to help you if you are struggling and you also have your friends and family around you.

Priorities

Medicine or hockey? I am frequently asked which one means more or which one I would hate to lose. This is a difficult question and I also find it an unnecessary one. I think everyone is more than capable of doing more than one thing and enjoying them equally. There will be clashes and times when the medical school say that missing something is not possible. I had clinical exams during a competition once and I had my coach ask if they could fly me out and back during the competition. This is where I think you need to know your priorities. If I missed the exam I would not be able to pass the year and if I missed the competition I would have missed my first senior competition. In this scenario, it is up to you what means more to you and you have to accept that you may miss out on amazing opportunities. I ultimately chose to sit the exams. I think the most important thing to say about this is: know your priorities but don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot pursue two careers/passions.

 

Communication is key

Start conversations early. Medicine requires a lot of in-person contact time and, in my case, hockey also requires a large volume of commitment. For medicine I can be expected to be in 9-5, Monday – Friday, and with hockey I am expected to train around 11 times a week in a normal week. Further to this I am also expected to be away on training camps meaning I miss days/weeks of placement at a time. Therefore, it is no surprise when the medical school does not take well to the sound of another training camp meaning I miss two days of placement, followed by another competition meaning I miss essential RESUS teaching. To avoid this, start communicating with your medical school as soon as possible. Let your head of year know what events you hope to attend during the year, how many days of which specialties (or teaching) that you will miss and come up with a plan yourself of how you think you could make up for this time. I personally am happy to go in on weekends or stay late during the week and I accept the fact that I will lose some of my summer to make up for what I have missed. However, if you don’t communicate early you can get yourself into some trouble and the medical school may not let you away with it. Also, coming up with your own plan to fix the lost time shows that you have initiative. Even if you play sport casually communicating when you are able to make training and when you are not is key! 

McKenzie Bell
University of Glasgow

About The Author

McKenzie is a medical student from the University of Glasgow, who plays hockey for Scotland and represented them at the U23 European Championships.