Recharging While Working

Joycelyn Soo Mun Peng, Helen Cai, Darren Lim Zi Yang, Matthew Wong Yu Heng

Medical school is an intensive period of training and studying, filled with periodic theoretical and clinical examinations to prepare for. It is a common perception that this leaves little time for leisure activities. In this piece, fellow medics share how they unwind in the midst of their busy schedule and are not "all work and no play".

Darren Lim Zi Yang

"Medical school is going to be tiring and you will be spending most of the time studying in the library." I guess this is the most common perception people have of medical students. Having experienced two years of medical school, I agree that the going gets tough but the journey can be extremely fun and rewarding as well. I will be sharing my personal experience of how us students can have fun and not burn out from the vast amount of knowledge that we have to acquire.

Lessons at LKCMedicine are structured as team-based learning (TBL) and studying is mostly on an "own time own target" basis where we have to finish learning a particular set of content prior to a lesson. As such, our timetable caters for days of self-studying; as long as we are disciplined, there will be free time for us to pursue hobbies or relax. Personally, I would spend my free days going out with friends and on activities that would give myself a break from studying. I play sports such as floorball and basketball during my free time and to me, it is very important to engage in physical activities since we spend a significant portion of our time being sedentary while studying.

We are allocated TBL groups during lessons and these groupings remain the same for the rest of the year. As such, I make it a point to have time to bond with my teammates and build our relationship and rapport since we will be working together a lot during term time. LKCMedicine has dual campuses: the main campus at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and another at Novena, Clinical Sciences Building (CSB). Most of our lessons are held at CSB and there are many facilities available there for us to relax and unwind. During breaks in-between classes, we can enter the student lounge to play pool, or go to the house rooms to play Wii games, or just "chill". If we feel like working out, we can utilise our breaks to play ping-pong or access the gym for a quick exercise. The facilities are wonderful and are readily accessible to ensure that we have our own "downtime".

Medical school is not all about work. Yes, we do work hard but we can play hard as well.

Matthew Wong Yu Heng

Medical school in Cambridge is generally pretty tough. The short term time (three terms of 70 to 80 days each, named the Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter terms) means that the entire year's content of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology is taught within four months. The examinations can be exceedingly difficult and they assess a wide range of skills: from evaluating one's attention to detail and rote memory in the multiple choice questions to one's general understanding, creativity and synthesis of content in the essays. With the academic rigour, many of us suffer from burnout closer to examinations.

Let me divide the academic year into two periods as I explore how we medical students relax or recharge. The first period is the four months where we actively attend lectures and weekly supervisions, and learn the course content for the first time. The second period is the three weeks before the examination period where regret sets in, the gravity of our lack of knowledge becomes apparent, and (last-minute) studying becomes most intensive.

Personally, I would immerse myself in non-academic activities during the first period. As an avid squash player, I joined the university team and so trainings occupied a sizeable chunk of my week. Closer to the varsity match against Oxford, I recall training approximately five to six times per week. On days without training, I either found other modes of exercise (this honestly only happened on days I was feeling particularly motivated) or spent time socialising and going out with friends. In Cambridge, there are a myriad of societies and miscellaneous events that you can sign up for as well. I have also been peer pressured into joining friends on walks to places in the middle of nowhere, and those served the dual function of helping me unwind while allowing me to explore the unchartered territories of the UK. Nobody said being a tourist and medical student were mutually exclusive. During this period, I also travelled frequently to London to meet friends.

The second period leading up to the examinations was more stressful, and sanity felt difficult to maintain at times. Personally, I am physically incapable of studying more than eight hours per day so I typically allocate six to seven hours on work and spend the rest of the day on other activities. During this period, socialising and proper quality sleep are the best cures for mental enervation. Midday naps were at first a luxury but grew to become a necessity for me. Interestingly, there are even ways to be efficient about breaks as well. I began to schedule running necessary but time- consuming errands immediately after my study sessions. That way, my brain was recovering from the mental fatigue while I was still doing something productive. To unwind, I also watched movies and joined my friends in impulsive, spontaneous activities such as (more) walks, meals, exercises, random society events and Cambridge formals.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that you can escape the mountain of content that is intrinsic to the medicine course. Rather, the best way to mitigate stress is simply to immerse yourself in non-academic activities throughout the week/academic year while consistently studying a little every day.

Joycelyn Soo Mun Peng Student Correspondent

Helen Cai Student Correspondent

Darren Lim Zi Yang , Year 3 medic at the NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

Matthew Wong Yu Heng , Year 2 medic at the University of Cambridge


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