Helping your student doctor rest

Hey friends,

I cannot believe we are already into fall! Is it just me or was this the fastest summer ever? Things seem to get so busy so quickly and before you know it the semester will be over. With that in mind, I wanted to write about a topic I feel strongly about, especially in the craziness of medical school: rest!

Before my husband started medical school, he did a one year master’s program which also had an extremely heavy workload. We decided early on that we needed to set aside a day of rest, or Sabbath, in order to get that rest that is so needed and to keep our priorities in line with the demands of school. I highly recommend watching this video by Student Doctor Thompson about managing priorities that inspired us 🙂

We have continued this practice into med school, and I am so incredibly grateful that my husband makes this sacrifice for his faith and our marriage, not to mention his own health. It takes a lot of work to only study 6 days out of the week instead of all 7, and I know that it is often stressful as tests are usually on Mondays. Sometimes it means that he can’t do as many things in the evenings as his friends, but I think having a whole day off is so much better! That way whatever happens during the week, we have one day to look forward to spending together resting.

If you’re the spouse or significant other of a medical student, you’re probably thinking, “You’re crazy. How can you afford to set aside an entire day of the week and do well in classes?” which is often the response we get from both spouses and students when they hear my husband doesn’t study on Sundays. Let me tell you, it is not only possible, but it is so worth it! Having an entire day to take a mental break, spend time doing hobbies, and getting to hang out with family and friends is amazing for both students and spouses.

Since my husband is the only student doctor I know of that takes a whole day to rest, I became curious about how other student doctors in his program rest throughout the week, so I decided to ask a few of them some questions. I found them insightful and hope that their answers will encourage you and your student doctor remember to rest in such a busy time!

How important do you think rest and relaxation is in med school?

  • Rest and relaxation is very important. I try not to get burnt out and in order to have an efficient day and retain what I learn I need to get sleep.
  • It is arguably the most important thing you can do. Studying is important, you can’t be efficient if you are burned out.
  • I think it’s important to recognize when it’s important and when it’s needed. This can be different for everyone. If I start to feel exhausted and it’s as if I’m not retaining anything, I take a break and do something for myself. Additionally, I feel that it’s important to relax and spend time with your loved ones like friends, family, and significant others. When I don’t have a test the next week, I make sure to make time for my girlfriend and family. Ultimately, medical school is my job right now. If my mental stress is interfering with it, I choose to relax.
  • In my opinion rest is absolutely essential to being successful in medical school.  Taking time to clear your head and spend time with friends and family is needed to keep the stress of school at a manageable level.
  • The best way I have found my spouse protects my restful time is to adjust her schedule to be available to rest at the same time.  It is much easier to unwind when she too is not busy with school or work, and we can spend time together.  Another way my wife protects my rest time is not using that time to ask me things about school.  This is not to say we never talk about school.  I frequently talk to her about how school is going, but I appreciate that she understands that when I stop studying for the day it is time for us to relax, and discussing school would make that more difficult.
  • I think they are very important. Med school is like running a marathon every day of the week for 4 years. If you do not take the time to rest and give your mind time to sort through the material and just have a break then you will burn out real fast.

How much time every week do you spend resting?

  • I get about 6-7 hours of sleep a night. If I am lucky 8.
  • Have 2 hours in the morning (if I wake up early enough), and then around 2 to 3 hours at night.
  • I would say I spend about 1-2 hours every night not doing anything medical school related to decompress. On weekends we don’t have a test the next week, I spend more time relaxing. However, when preparing just before a exam, my studies go up and my free time suffers. It varies based on the material and how prepared I feel.
  • I take an hour each night for dinner, and I stop studying every day at 9:00 p.m.  Depending on when I go to sleep, I have 3-4 hours each day that I would consider restful.
  • I plan my week differently than most medical students do. I work essentially non-stop with the exception of meals and club activities Monday through Saturday, but then I take the entire day of Sunday to rest and to be with my wife.

What does rest and relaxation look like for you?

  • Rest looks like sleep for me. Occasionally watching TV as I wind down. It also looks like hanging out with friends.
  • It varies a lot: changing scenery (day trips, hiking…), quality time with significant other, exercise (gym),  doing nothing at all, night life, church, hobbies. It is hard to get variety, but important for me.
  • Working out is a big stress reliever for me. This can be sports, weight lifting, running, etc. Something active clears my mind. Other than this, it is usually spent not thinking about work, watching a mindless movie or show, and enjoying a beer. On weekends I go with my girlfriend on dates to the movies, dinner or whatnot and relax with her. Relaxation, to me, is anything but school.
  • Rest can look different depending on the day.  Most days a period of my restful time includes a meal with my wife.  The time between 9:00 p.m. and when I go to sleep can include a wide variety of activities.  It may just be sitting down and watching something with my wife, it can include time playing with our dog, some days I spend this time cleaning (which I personally find a good way to relieve stress), and other days I may just decide to turn in early.  The one consistent aspect of my restful time is I try not to think or talk about school, and I try to focus on other important parts of my life.
  • For me it looks like anything at all that is not studying. Sometimes we are so busy that just the act of driving from home to the school is relaxing for no other reason than the fact that I am not studying in those few minutes. Aside from that, I try to have a complete meal with my wife every day and to work out twice a week. On top of that I leave Sunday totally free (when I can help it) to spend with my wife.

How can your spouse/significant other help you protect time for rest and relaxation?

  • My wife is fantastic helping me with my lunch and laundry and cooking. I definitely have a lot more free time and sleep because of her and all of her help.
  • Understand that when we get back from class, we can be intellectually and emotionally exhausted. It’s important to not misinterpret that. Sometimes doing nothing is doing something and that’s OK. Obviously communication is also extremely important, and that goes both ways. But knowing our schedule and talking to us is helpful so that when we do have time off, you can organize fun things together. Time is so valuable, sometimes organizing stuff to do together needs to be planned days/ weeks in advance. At the end of the day it’s a team effort, but the non-medical student may have to do the “heavy lifting.”
  • Every non-test weekend I make sure to spend time with my girlfriend. With us both being in school, we use this time to rest and not think about the stress of school. I can get caught up in studying and making sure I know everything but she helps me remember I need to make time for both of us. She knows the strain this has on my mental state and knows when I need a break from it all and helps to remind me.
  • The best way I have found my spouse protects my restful time is to adjust her schedule to be available to rest at the same time.  It is much easier to unwind when she too is not busy with school or work, and we can spend time together.  Another way my wife protects my rest time is not using that time to ask me things about school.  This is not to say we never talk about school.  I frequently talk to her about how school is going; but I appreciate that she understands that when I stop studying for the day it is time for us to relax, and discussing school would make that more difficult.
  • I think that the best way that a spouse can help their medical student out is by realizing a few things. First, realize that on any given week we are being asked to memorize an amount of material that is impossible to fully memorize. We could literally spend all day every day studying and still not totally cover it all. With that comes a lot that we will not have time for. Stuff as simple as getting gas, doing the dishes, or the laundry become hard to remember to do because we are always thinking about how much information we are being asked to study. When my wife does something very little like get the groceries, it is a huge help because I literally do not have time to think about doing that.Second, it’s a good idea to remember that we are usually doing this in a large part for them and that there is a lot in the balance. One of the many reasons that I want to be a doctor is to give my family a good lifestyle where my wife can homeschool our kids and don’t need to worry about food being on the table. If I fail, then all of that is impacted. So yes it is school, but a lot hangs in the balance.Third, realize we don’t want to be away from our loved ones studying all the time, and if we could change it we would, but we do not have a choice most of the time. It is hard enough to study 90 hours a week, but having a supportive and encouraging spouse can make all the difference.Fourth, do not let us use school as the be-all end-all excuse for everything. Yes, medical school is like having two full time jobs, and that is not including lab time. And yes, we will need to miss certain events probably more often than not, but there will always be time for intentional time together somewhere in the week. We still have at least 3 more years of hard studying and work after medical school so don’t let us get lazy with our priorities.

I don’t know about you, but I found their responses so insightful! It was encouraging to read about how much of an influence spouses can have on their student doctors. It is tempting to complain about how much time our spouses spend studying rather than spending time with us or how we may have to take on more of the household chores, but this was a great reminder for me to treasure the time I get to spend with my husband and appreciate the sacrifice of time he makes in order to rest with me.

I hope you enjoyed reading about ways to rest in medical school! I would love to hear how your student doctor rests or things that you have found helpful to help them do that!

P.S. Would you do me a huge favor? I am always trying to blog about things that are relevant to my readers, and would love your feedback! If you can take 2 minutes to fill out this form, you get gold stars 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Helping your student doctor rest

  1. mehoward11 says:

    This is amazing!! I love how you support Matt! Grateful for how you guys are continuing to be great examples in every arena and making sure to try to live in the values that are your priority and that you can control at this point in life! Love you dearly!


  2. Wendy says:

    Just taking the time to think about and research this subject so deeply shows how much you care about Matt and how much you treasure your marriage. Keep up the fab work!!


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