You can’t buy happiness with material objects, but they sure can help make medical school much more manageable and far less painful. Here are my 7 favorites.
You don’t need me to rehash the list of items you know you need for medical school, like a stethoscope. These are the items that are often overlooked, either in not purchasing them or not investing enough in getting quality products. Links to all of these recommended items are in the description.
If you’ve never tried studying with two screens rather than one, your mind will be blown once you do. Doing so allows you to more easily tackle projects that require multiple simultaneous windows, which are actually most tasks. Maybe you’re watching a video of a lecture and taking notes on the other monitor, for example. Or perhaps looking up research articles and reading PDF’s on one monitor, and writing a manuscript on the other.
If you’re deep into the Apple ecosystem like I am, you can even do this with your Mac and iPad, whereby your iPad serves as the additional monitor. There used to be apps for this, but now it’s baked into iOS 14 through Sidecar and is seamless.
I studied a great deal at my medical school in the small classrooms, and we were lucky that there were 1 or 2 TV’s in each. By simply bringing my own cable to school, I would be able to dual-screen my laptop, getting all the benefits of a second monitor without the added cost or bulk of carrying one. I got more done this way and could even share notes or slides with my study buddy.
Medical students are crunched for time, and that’s why I emphasize productivity and efficiency so heavily. Whenever possible, you should seek to automate and delegate tasks to free up your own time. Hiring a maid service can get prohibitively costly quickly, but investing upfront in a robot vacuum for a couple of hundred dollars is well worth it, particularly when that robot vacuum works for years and saves you countless hours of vacuuming yourself.
Since studying will be such a central focus and large chunk of your day, you want to invest in items that serve that purpose, either making it more comfortable, enjoyable, or effective. A large part of that is the desk you use.
But as a broke medical student, I figured taking an IKEA jerker and fixing it at a higher height would be best. Back then, motorized standing desks were far too expensive for me to justify. I used a standing desk in all of medical school, but it was a fixed desk at a fixed height, and I didn’t use a seat or stool. By having a seat, I figured I’d be tempted to almost always sit, thus defeating the purpose of the standing desk.
I recently bought a motorized base for $200 that goes under my tabletop, thus converting a regular IKEA desk into a fully functional motorized standing desk. I only wish I did this sooner, as I get the benefits of both.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Optimizing your studying also means blocking out distractions, including distracting noises. It’s for this reason that noise-canceling headphones or earbuds are a must for medical students. I find my AirPods Pro convenient, effective at blocking external noise, and sounding good enough for my portable listening needs. The issue with earbuds is that some people find them uncomfortable over longer listening periods. The alternative is noise-canceling headphones, which trade portability for improvements in comfort and sound. I recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4’s for this purpose.
When studying at home, I found it preferable to get nice speakers, or studio monitors. As I cover in my video on the effect of music and studying, certain types of music can minimize any detrimental effect on focus and memory consolidation while making studying more enjoyable. Invest in a quality pair, as they can serve you for years. I’m still using my same set of Emotiva Airmotiv 4 studio monitors 9 years later.
Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
In the pursuit of eating healthy and saving time, slow cookers and instant pots are lifesavers. If you’re often too lazy to cook, like I am, then slow cookers or multicookers reduce the friction. You simply throw in a handful of ingredients, set the temperature and time, and are welcomed to a delicious and nutritious meal later in the day or the next morning.
I started off with a Crock-Pot, which was a good way to dabble, but once my girlfriend of the time introduced me to Instant Pots, which have a pressure cooker functionality, I was an instant convert. While slow cookers like the Crock-Pot require some planning ahead, the Instant Pot’s pressure function allows for quick cooking and last-minute decisions.
Memory Foam Mattress
Sleep is one of the three pillars in maximizing your performance in medical school – the other two being nutrition and exercise. But it’s strange most of us don’t prioritize it the way we should. Once I upgraded to a quality memory foam mattress in medical school, my sleep was instantly better and back pain was greatly reduced.
You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on a mattress either. I was actually blown away by the very affordable Spa Sensations 12″ mattress from Walmart, which I found more comfortable even compared to many more expensive options.
Quality Water Bottle
Without having a water bottle nearby, you’re likely to find yourself dehydrated, which can impair your focus and performance. My obsession with finding the best water bottle is a bit strange, but here’s what I’ve learned. First, it should be made out of metal, as even BPA-free plastic can still leech other chemicals into the water. Second, large capacity means you can adequately stay hydrated without running out of water or wasting too much time making trips to refill. And third, the mouthpiece should be entirely covered when not in use. I found out the hard way why that one’s important. My go-to and daily driver is the Takeya 40z insulated.
Those who follow me on Instagram or on my other YouTube channel, Kevin Jubbal, M.D., know that earlier this year I got majorly obsessed with tea. I had dabbled with coffee in medical school at the beginning of my fourth year but quickly realized that the gastrointestinal effects weren’t suited to my sensitive gut. Plus, the jittery wired feeling from coffee wasn’t really my jam.
High-quality loose leaf tea, not the tea bags you buy at the grocery store, is now my favorite drink of choice. The tastes are varied and amazing, but more importantly, tea contains a combination of caffeine and L-theanine. This ultimately results in a calm, focused state.
If you want to dive into good tea and see what you’ve been missing, I’ll be making an introduction video on my personal channel, including all the gadgets to buy and where to source your tea from.
There are a few other considerations I want you to keep in mind.
First, you’ll be spending a great deal of time at your desk studying, and you should optimize that space appropriately with a second monitor, comfortable chair, standing option, and so on. But don’t forget that how you set up your desk is also critical. You can have the best products but if they’re not set up with proper ergonomics, you’ll find yourself having aches and pains.
Second, I wish I spent more money freeing up my time. Because I had no income and had student loans, I was too reluctant to spend money on a cleaning service or even a robovacuum, and only began getting groceries delivered at the end of medical school.
Third, where you live is hugely important and should not be taken lightly. Does your apartment complex have a gym so you can squeeze a quick workout in when you’re crunched for time? Is it close to your medical school or hospitals? Reducing commuting time will be key, and it’s even better if you can ride a bicycle to get exercise in. Are you close to friends? The importance of social support cannot be overstated.
And last, I bought various products to improve my sleep quality in medical school, and I’m so glad I did. From blackout curtains to smart lights to white noise machines, I cover not only the products that will help you sleep better, but also the science and behavior change to sleep better than you thought possible. For sleep products, read this article, or check out my entire sleep archive.