5 time-management hacks for medical students

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

We’ve all heard it said: There aren’t enough hours in the day. That adage is all too true for busy medical students. So where do they learn how to study in medical school? And how do students balance school work and life obligations? These five tips offer some insight on those questions. 

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Find the most efficient study method for you. As a medical student, particularly early in your training, you may spend more time reviewing and learning outside of the classroom and clinic than anything else. Making the most of that time—according to Lisa Rebecca Medoff, PhD—requires determining what study resources maximize your retention.

“One of the things that I do is I help students figure out how they learn best,” said Medoff, a learning specialist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “If you learn best from lecture, spend the bulk of your time learning from lecture and use the readings to make sure you’ve understood everything. Or do you learn mostly from reading and spend most of your time reading?

“A lot of our students don’t necessarily have to go to class because the lectures are videotaped, so for students who learn better from reading, they might do the reading then watch the lectures on double time to make sure they haven’t missed anything.”

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Medical student sitting on a stack of textbooks

Outsource errands. Finding time for the everyday tasks, particularly during clinicals, is a tall task for many medical students. There are options—which, in some instances, can be pricey—to save time on the most common, time-consuming chores. Those options include grocery delivery, drop-off laundry and house-cleaning services.

Make a schedule—and stick to it. For some students, a regimen can be helpful. How strictly that schedule is followed will depend on the individual. But scheduling sleep, study, meals, social activities and study time has a number of benefits.

“What I will often talk to students about is: you need to have some kind of structure,” Medoff said. “It doesn’t have to be ‘Here’s what I’m going to do in every minute of the day.’ I will usually say, ‘Are you a time-bound person or a task-bound person?’”

Learn to live off leftovers. An hour or two spent cooking one day can feed you for an entire week. Weekly meal prep—Sunday typically makes the most sense for your time in the kitchen—can also save you time and money while helping you eat more healthfully. “When you eat food you have prepared yourself, you have control over the ingredients,” said Kathy Kolasa, PhD, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and master educator in East Carolina University’s family medicine and pediatrics departments. “You are likely to do a better job of managing sodium,  managing sugar and managing fat that has been added.”

Work out on your way to work. This is going to depend on where you live in relation to your work space, but consider riding your bike to work. The benefits go beyond health: a 2017 study found that Bicycle commuters report a higher quality of life and greater satisfaction with their health than public transportation users, walkers, and motor vehicle users.