This Is How To Take Time Off During Medical School

Here is a list of a few experiences I’m happy that I did to take time off during medical school my first two years. 

Recently I was up late clicking through my old Facebook pictures reliving some of the more fun moments of the past few years. As I was doing this I realized that I have done SO MANY amazing and wonderful things since starting medical school. At the beginning of M1 year, everyone tells you (jokingly or not, I can never tell) to kiss your social life (or any kind of life outside of books and medicine) goodbye. I have not found this to be necessary AT ALL and I want to encourage you all to reject this mindset. While it’s true there were times I spent 14 hour days in the library or when I was so stressed about an upcoming lab practical that I couldn’t bear to do anything besides study, there were also many times when I put other things in my life first.

I think this has helped me to be more balanced and allowed me to build up a reserve of emotional strength to draw from when it comes to the tough parts of medical school. By having things outside of medical school to plan and look forward to, I don’t let studying completely define who I am as a person, which means I’m able to handle it better if I don’t perform as well as I want on an exam or during morning rounds. Yes, I am a medical student, but I am also a person who loves to explore, go on adventures and experience interesting new things. There’s so much more to be proud of and excited about than just the time I spend training to be a doctor. Don’t get me wrong, that time is also incredibly fulfilling but it is also sometimes emotionally draining. There has been an increasing interest in wellness in the medical community as more a light is shined upon the prevalence of burnout through medical training. Focusing on wellness is a reminder to do the things that are necessary to keep yourself healthy and able to give your best to your work. By caring for yourself in this way it helps you to focus better when needed and also keeps you from getting burnt out as easily. So, now that I’ve convinced you of how important it is to take time off for yourself, here is a list of a few experiences I’m happy that I made time for during the first two years of medical school.

  1. Music festivals – Every year in Montreal in the dead of winter there is Igloofest. It’s a magical event that literally takes place in the frozen tundra of Old Port. Thousands of people from all over gather to listen to amazing electronic music from exciting up-and-coming artists. There are lights, there is wild dancing, there are people dressed up in owl onesies – it’s unbelievable. Naturally there is also food and libations available (necessities for any music festival) but the main thing to go for is the music. Protip: if you decide to go don’t forget your chapstick, the wind coming off the water is murder on your lips. If you’re not a glutton for punishment and/or don’t live in New England, try checking out an event that’s closer to you and one that preferably takes place in the summer.
  2. Breweries – Burlington, VT is home to many breweries and I happen to live down the street from like five of them. There’s nothing more relaxing after a long day of studying than meeting up with some friends at Citizen Cider and having a pint or two. Depending on where you live there might be a local brewery, distillery or winery where you could enjoy a nice glass of local flavor.
  3. Exploring flora and fauna – Again, I live in Vermont so there is a lot of nature. You can go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, paddle-boarding – I could go on for ages. My apartment is literally right next to a huge park that’s on the lake and one of my favorite things is sitting out by the water as the sun sets. Try packing a picnic and heading out to your neighborhood green areas for a little break from memorizing the brachial plexus.
  4. Traveling Abroad – Not everyone will agree or have the resources for this one, I know, but for me travel is a huge priority. Since starting medical school I’ve been able to visit Bolivia, Colombia, California, Cuba, and of course Canada (never realized before that they all started with C, hmmm). It’s tough making it work with my budget but definitely worth it. I spend a lot of time looking for flight deals and using my credit card points for airline tickets and am always happy to share my frugal travel secrets! I’m also very lucky to have a partner who loves traveling and is willing to help out with some of the costs. I’m planning on making it to Orlando this summer and then hopefully Nepal and Alaska next year. For those of you who would like to travel but are restricted by your finances I would recommend looking into opportunities through your school – I have friends who have been able to combine their love of visiting new places with their passion for global health and there Is often funding available for these types of trips.
  5. Wacky and Weird events – One of the totally random things I did last year was go to a Renaissance Faire. I know it sounds super nerdy but honestly it was so much fun. There were people in costumes, performances by knights and Vikings and wenches, a unicorn and delicious food. It was pretty cool to walk around the booths that had been set up for local artists as well, some of them hawking really beautiful and intricate wares. I’ve also attended a Winter Celebration at a Meadery that had the most delicious sausages (and ice wine, and mead of course) that I’ve ever tasted, block parties where there were fire dancers, fun runs for local charities, Chowderpalooza, Oktoberfest, Burlington Food & Wine Festival and themed trivia nights (I missed the Game of Thrones one but managed to make it to Harry Potter, BEST NIGHT EVER).

So whether you’re just starting out as a medical student or are finishing up your fourth year, I would encourage you to spend some time looking for fun, local study break opportunities, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you’ll find and by how much it helps your general well-being!

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Chantal Mendes

Chantal Mendes is a writer who loves science. She graduated with a journalism degree from Boston University (go Terriers!) and is currently a third year at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. In addition to her interests in cardiology and pediatrics, Chantal enjoys rock-climbing, anything Lord of the Rings related and looking for the best poutine in Vermont. She shares stories of her journey from journalist to prospective doctor on her blog, and tweets @Chantal_Mendes.